Zaman columnist Ahmet Turan Alkan returns home after 709 days in Turkish prison

Ahmet Turan Alkan, a columnist for the now-shuttered Zaman newspaper, arrived home after his release by an İstanbul court on Friday, the online news outlet Kronos reported.

A photo of Alkan with his wife at their home was shared by Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey representative on Twitter.

A photo of Ahmet Turan Alkan with his wife during an open visit at Silivri Prison, where he has been jailed for almost two years, has been shared from the columnist’s Twitter account on July 5.

The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court sentenced Alkan to eight years, nine months along with Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç.

According to the ruling, Mümtaz’er Türköne and Mustafa Ünal received sentences of 10 years, six months, while İbrahim Karayeğen was given nine years.

The court also decided to release Alkan and Karayeğen pending appeal. The incarceration of Türköne and Ünal will continue.

Lalezar Sarı İbrahimoğlu, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, İhsan Dağı, Nuriye Akman and Mehmet Özdemir were acquitted of all charges.

International organizations including the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the International Press Institute (IPI) have reacted strongly against the rulings, calling for the immediate release of the journalists.

In a statement RSF summarized the court cases against the Zaman journalists:

“The charges against the columnists stem essentially from their work for Zaman, the country’s highest-circulation daily before it was placed under state control, and then shuttered by decree in 2016. Its editorial policy had favoured the Gülen movement, a former government ally that was then accused of having orchestrated the coup attempt of July 2016. That was enough to accuse anyone who worked for Zaman of ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ or of ‘attempting to overthrow the government and constitutional order.’ These charges were filed without slightest evidence of individual participation in violent acts or attempts to justify them. In the logic of the charges, if the columnists covered scandals in which the government was implicated, or criticized its drift toward authoritarianism, the goal was to create a ‘perception’ favouring a coup.”

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 240 journalists and media workers were in jail as of July 7, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 179 were under arrest pending trial while only 61 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 143 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. (SCF with

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