Veteran Turkish journalist Lale Kemal: I was put in prison without a single piece of evidence

Veteran journalist Lale Kemal, a columnist for the Zaman newspaper, at one time Turkey’s most highly circulated newspaper before the Turkish government’s unlawful takeover and closure of it in 2016, said at her last court hearing on Thursday, “I was put in prison without a single piece of evidence.”

Kemal was arrested with former Zaman columnists Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Nuriye Akman, Mustafa Ünal and Şahin Alpay on July 30, 2017 after a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and released pending trial under judicial probation after months of pretrial detention. The journalist presented her last defence before the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on Thursday afternoon as part of a trial of 31 defendants from Zaman.

According tweets from @P24DavaTakip, journalist Lale Kemal said in her defence: “The prosecutor’s office ignored the fact that my articles, which are accused of being a crime, belonged to an era when the Gülen movement was not described as a [terrorist] organization. This is not a minor issue. On the contrary, this is an extremely important point. The evidence has not been checked, and so they have charged me with committing a criminal offense without any evidence to back it up.”

Stating that she had experienced a deep disappointment as a law abiding citizen in the face of the fact that the obligation to “draft an indictment and present arguments” had been turned into directing only allegations, Kemal said: “Decisions to release were made for two defendants after the last court hearing, and a columnist for the [pro-government] Star newspaper expressed his good wishes for those who had been released. Of course, this is not a crime. However, why are my sentences which said the same thing for Ekrem Dumanlı [then-editor-in-chief of the Zaman daily], who had been taken into custody, being presented as a crime? Why this double standard?”

“The Constitutional Court stated that the courts cannot be able to decide how to conduct journalism in a recent decision dated May 2, 2018,” Kemal said and added: “I was put in prison without a single piece of evidence. This process negatively affected my health. I have to take critical medication. However, the Ministry of Health has written instructions to prevent drugs from being taken into prison. My family were able to assure me my drugs under very difficult conditions.”

Kemal completed her defence, saying, “I find the punishment being sought to be extremely unfair. I want my press card and passport back.”

Ümit Kardaş, Kemal’s lawyer, also stated that a case was built up with quotes from Kemal’s writings while failing to collect any solid evidence. The prosecution has demanded an extremely harsh punishment by putting her writings into her case file as evidence. Before the conclusion phase, three articles that were not included in the file were presented as evidence in the prosecutor’s arguments.”

Stating that there was no crime, Kardaş said: “There is only criticism in the sentences that Lale Kemal wrote, such as ‘I find it very dangerous if citizens are experiencing a fear of being profiled because of their beliefs or thoughts.’ The European Court of Human Rights [ECtHR] and Constitutional Court [AYM] decisions confirm this.”

“Regarding the determination of the date of the crime, there must be a court decision in order to identify a [social] structure as a terrorist organisation according to Turkish law. Moreover, there is no evidence that Lale Kemal knowingly and willingly helped the terror organisation,” Kardaş said and requested the acquittal of Lale Kemal.

It is common in Turkey for journalists to be investigated and jailed for their work. Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 242 journalists and media workers were in jail as of June 3, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 182 were under arrest pending trial while only 60 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 142 journalists who are living 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 some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

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