Veteran Turkish Journalist Hasan Cemal: A case where universal principles of law forgotten

By Hasan Cemal (*)

İstanbul’s Silivri Prison, December 8, 2017. It is 10:35.

The case of Zaman daily writers.

They come in single row again, the gendarmerie on both sides…

Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mustafa Ünal, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtaz’er Türköne…

The audience seats are full.

The press section is silent, just a couple of journalists…

The hands are being waved.

Kisses are being blown.

Suddenly smiles appeared on the faces.

With the gendarmerie’s intervention, everyone is seated.

Orhan Kemal Cengiz and Nuriye Akman are in the pending defendant section.

Two pending defendants from Ankara on the screen (video conferencing): Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, İhsan Dağı.

My colleagues and friends I’ve known for many years. Now, they are all being tried as a coup plotter and a supporter of terrorism in the period of civilian coup.

How sad and how pathetic.

It is not reasonable at all.

There are also defendants whose names I heard in the court.

Someone is defending:

“I am an accountant, I worked in Zaman (daily) in order to make my living and to look after my family, I had no other purpose, how could I be engaged with the coup or a terror organization. I’m a simple, ordinary employee. Even I had no signing authority. What am I doing here?..”

My dear Şahin Alpay is turning to me, we are waving our hands each other, this is the only way to fulfill our longings…

Nuriye Akman’s voice is rising:

“I refuse of being a coup plotter and a member of the terrorist organization. I am an independent and unrelated journalist and writer.”

Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu appears on the screen. She says she is a journalist with 37 years of experience. She reminds that throughout her career she followed a line that kept the military and politics away from each other and wrote for that. But now, without even a single piece of concrete evidence, she says that she is being judged with the charge of plotting coup and being member of a terror organization, demanded aggravated life imprisonment for three times and justice was disregarded.

And she underlines:

“We are being judged by an indictment that universal principles of law are forgotten.”

İhsan Dağı also denies his coup plotting and membership of a terrorist organization in his defense:

“I can not be blamed of being a coup plotter, I’ve always stood by the national will against the coups. I’ve never become an instrument of FETO, which is a post-modern terror organization.”

Orhan Kemal Cengiz begins as follows:

“Why am I in this indictment? It is a tough question! Because I am not in this indictment… My name is in the list of columnists, but I don’t have any article at all.” 

He asks:

“How shall I be judged without any evidence about me, for what shall I defend?”

He replies:

“There is no evidence, but I am here because of my lawyer profession, because of that I had filed a case of the trustee appointed to Zaman to the Constitutional Court as a part of individual application.”

Being judged without knowing what you are accused of… Preparing an indictment by reading the intentions…

A defendant is asking:

“Buying a live broadcast vehicle, how come it causes 500 days of my imprisonment?” 

Another defendant:

“I am a person who is bound by my country, nation and flag. And I demand my acquittal.”

It’s the coup regime and judgment of submissiveness that keep people in this position…

What as embarrassing period we are going through; Sometimes I feel like choking while listening to defenses…

My colleagues and friends I’ve known for many years. Now, they are all being tried as a coup plotter and a supporter of terrorism in the period of civilian coup.

How sad and how pathetic. It is not reasonable at all.

I listen to my beloved Şahin:

“I’ve been in jail for 500 days, more than 16 months. There is no concrete evidence. Just 7 articles published in Zaman, that’s all. I refuse to be a member of a terror organization. I did not commit a crime of violence and compulsion. I have always struggled with violence to be banned for politics. I am not a terrorist I am not an initiator… In order to support coup plotters I should have lost my mind… Besides, I deal with my chronic illnesses. I need my family’s care.”

Zaman’s Ankara representative, a good Ankara journalist Mustafa Ünal, “I am under arrest for 500 days, why?” He begins his defence:

“I do not really know why I’ve been in jail for 500 days… Just 8 headings and 2 sentences from one article in the indictment… That’s it… There is no evidence of any kind… Are 500 long days not enough to collect the evidence?”


“I am not a terrorist, and I find so embarrassing to say this, I am not a coup plotter, I am not a member of terror organization.”

And adds Mustafa Ünal:

“If the criteria applied to me with this indictment are applied to the Justice and Development Party (AKP, government party), 90 percent of the AKP would be judged.”

Ali Bulaç is coming to the microphone:

“I am under arrest for a total of 499 days… What’s the specific evidence? There is no. Only 6 of my articles and I am being judged by just their headings… I am not a coup plotter… Because the coup is a kind of bullying… I wrote that inviting the coup is contemptibleness very short time ago from 15 July 2016 (the date of coup attempt)…”

Şahin Alpay stands up, blows kisses towards the audiences; Fatma, Elvan, Acar, Defne…

Ahmet Turan Alkan raises his voice:

– I’m furious!

– I’m filled with rebellion!

– This case is a work of revenge!

– It’s a political case!

– By ignoring December 17, 2013 (corruption scandal of the ministers), this case can not be understood!

– The headings of 7 articles, that’s all, I have been imprisoned for 500 days. Is that so easy to steal 500 days from my life?

– I have written for 20 years in Zaman. I had no engagement with anyone, neither Fethullah Gülen, nor Erdogan…

– They’re treating us as traitors in prison. This is so offending for us. They want to drive us crazy in the prison.

– We are beaten here as the figurants. I do not expect mercy and justice from you.

– I have been nationalist for many years, today I am asking forgiveness from Allah.

Break is given.

We have tea and coffee in the cafeteria.

A forty-year friend, Fatma, the beloved wife of Sahin Alpay, is full of eyes:

“Are we going to pass away without living in a beautiful Turkey ever?”

With a pacifier in the mouth, a baby who is barely walking, passed by me. He was Ahmet Turan Alkan’s grandson, 13-month-old, saying that “Grandpa, grandpa”.

It’s 16:00.

Mümtazer Türköne speaks:

“We are waiting for you to explain to us for exactly 500 days, for what reason we have been imprisoned. I’ve been in favor of democracy, law. I’ve always been against the coups.”

The voice of Ergin Cinmen, the forty-year lawyer, is rising:

“Here, we are trying to prove that the thing, which is not existing, is not existed. Without evidence, without groundless we are facing with an indictment having no freedom of thought.”

It’s 19:10.

They come in a single line between the gendarmes. I could shake hands with all of them; Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Mustafa Ünal under the allowance of the gendarmerie…

The usual chat in the corridor:

This time, is the eviction decision given?

Can we take Şahin Alpay?

It is 21:00.

It’s been continuing for 11 hours.

Finally, the prosecutor speaks:

“The continuation of their detention…”

It’s 21:50.

There are three evacuations. Relatives of them in joy, along with tears…

There is no salvation to authors, to dear Şahin, from prison. The next hearing is April 5, 2018. Where is the justice, the right, the law in this?

The voice of my beloved Ahmet Altan comes to my ear at the beginning of the week in Istanbul 26th Heavy Penal Court:

We face with a power, which tries to silence and punish every criticism of today’s political power.

Because they are unable to find a serious crime to punish the opposing writers, they are wallowing in the slime of nonsense and making up strange crimes different from each other without law or logic.

This effort is dragging the the jurisdiction to a nonsensical ridiculousness.

A judgment can be everything but it can not be ridiculous.

The justice getting ridiculous would die.

Today, if 70 percent of the population, about 60 million people say “I do not trust the judiciary” that is why these ridiculous efforts are seen by the society.


(*) This article has been first published by online news portal T24. Hasan Cemal (born 1944) is a veteran Turkish journalist, writer and the grandson of Cemal Pasha. He was the editor of Cumhuriyet daily from 1981 to 1992, and of Sabah daily from 1992 to 1998. In 2013 he resigned from the Milliyet newspaper after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had criticised his article supporting Milliyet‘s publication of minutes of a parliamentary visit to Abdullah Öcalan, and Milliyet suspended him and refused to publish his returning column. He is known for acknowledging and apologizing for the Armenian Genocide, a crime which was perpetrated in part by his grandfather and his colleagues. His 2012 book on the subject (written in response to the 2007 assassination of his friend Hrant Dink) is titled 1915: Ermeni Soykırımı (1915: Armenian Genocide).

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of December 7, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 26 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

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