Up to 15 years in prison sought for 21 former TRT staff due to alleged Gülen links

A prosecutor has drafted an indictment seeking up to 15 years in prison for 21 former state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) staff members due to alleged Gülen links.

The indictment, which was accepted by Ankara 23rd High Criminal Court, is seeking jail sentences of between seven to 15 years for dismissed TRT staff members, accusing them of membership in an armed terrorist organization.

According to the indictment, the staff members used a smart phone application known as ByLock, had accounts at Bank Asya, which was confiscated by the Turkish government due to Gülen links, and met with “leaders” of the Gülen movement.

Turkish authorities believe using ByLock is a sign of being a Gülen follower as they see the mobile phone application as the top communication tool among the group.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has condemned the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government for arresting scores of journalists. Kılıçdaroğlu’s remarks came on Monday, during the trial of Cumhuriyet daily journalists and executives who were arrested in November 2016.

Referring to the 109th anniversary of the “Journalists and Press Festival”, which has been celebrated since the official abolishment of censorship on July 24, 1908, Kılıçdaroğlu said in a social media message: “We cannot celebrate the Press Festival when we have scores of journalists under arrest. We will fight until the press is free and justice is restored in the country! I am condemning the AKP government for turning the Press Festival into a day of shame, for arresting journalists doing their jobs and for practicing the worst-ever censorship.”

The trial of 17 suspects, including Cumhuriyet daily journalists and executives, began at an İstanbul court on Monday, 267 days after the newspaper’s staff members were arrested. An indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in April 2017 originally named 19 suspects, including former Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, who left Turkey before a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in the April indictment accuse them of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and FETÖ. FETÖ is a derogatory term coined by Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP government to refer to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup attempt. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch.

Moreover, PEN International Turkey celebrated the 109th anniversary of press freedom in Turkey with irony on July 24, which coincided with the first day in the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists and executives. “Today is July 24. Today we are celebrating the abolishment of censorship with joy and happiness. Censorship was abolished on July 24, 1908; since that day we have been celebrating the ‘Journalists and Press Festival’ every year on July 24 in the freest country in the world,” said PEN.

Ironically referring to the lack of freedom of thought and the imposition of pressure on journalists, PEN said: “No matter which ideology and newspaper they belong to, our journalists are freely thinking, following the facts, investigating, questioning, writing, speaking, criticizing, commenting, discussing and doing their jobs without reproach for what they are writing.”

The Turkish Press Council, which criticized the situation of democracy in Turkey, has also commented on the state of the media before the trial started and said: “While aiming to become one of the liberal democracies, today we are faced with a media image that is darkened by bans, pressure, self-censorship and collective unemployment. One hundred sixty journalists are in jail. In the last year alone 110 media organizations were closed down and 2,500 journalists were left unemployed.”

A controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement and initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has also documented that 264 journalists are now in jails as of July 18, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 240 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 109 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. (SCF with turkishminute.com) July 25, 2017

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