Zaman employee says in Turkish court facing life sentence due to a TV commercial

Yakup Şimşek (53), the brand marketing manager of now-closed Zaman daily, one-time best-selling newspaper in Turkey, has said he is facing a life sentence because of a TV commercial run by his paper which according to the prosecutor gave implicit messages about a coup that took place on July 15, 2016 in Turkey.

Şimşek is one of the suspects in the trial of seven journalists including prominent journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak who are accused of coup involvement. The journalists’ trial resumed at an İstanbul court on Monday, and the court is expected to render final verdicts on Friday.

Yakup Şimşek, who have spent almost a quarter century in media, marketing and advertising industry in Turkey, was charged under the country’s abusive anti-terror and coup plotting charges. The purported criminal evidence against him is an advertisement that was aired in national TV networks nine months before the controversial coup bid of July 15, 2016.

The ad was nothing but a promotion campaign to woo new readers for Zaman daily. Şimşek was the Brand Marketing Director of the daily and he was responsible for promoting the brand name, and increasing the sales.

In a bizarre twist in the case, Turkish prosecutor claimed that a TV commercial aired 9 months 10 days before the coup attempt was in fact a secret message for a coup in a subliminal way. It would be quite a prank for Şimşek if the prosecutor did not just make up a new penal code on sending subliminal message. He is facing a lifetime sentencing if gets convicted on fabricated charges.

The commercial was actually part of yearly promotional campaign by Zaman daily that had been done on a regular basis. It had been aired in various networks for 40 days and did not ruffle feathers in pro-government circles. No complaint filed against the ad and there was certainly no criminal probe launched against it by any prosecutor as there was no basis for doing so. However, prosecutor Murat Çağlak claimed that through TV ads in which a baby smiles after scenes of chaos the Gülen movement sent messages to its members.

The commercial consisted of series of five different clips that last 20 seconds each. In one of these clips, a baby smiled after blow horn sirens wailed over a city. It was a sales pitch for the newspaper to readers if they want to keep abreast of urgent developments in their cities and towns. Yet, after the failed coup bid, the prosecutor claimed the baby in the ad was a metaphor that foresaw the coup attempt nine months later.

During the hearing at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on Wednesday, Şimşek delivered his final defense statement with this background and said he played no role in the preparation of the scenario for the Zaman TV commercial, which is mentioned in the indictment.

While presenting his defense, the presiding judge warned Şimşek to conclude his statements in one minute. “I am facing a life sentence due to a TV commercial, and you want me to finish my defense in one minute,” said Şimşek.

Following Şimşek, former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül delivered his final defense in which he denied coup charges.

Another suspect in the trial, Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the owner of the advertising agency that created Zaman’s TV commercial, said in his defense that he did not shoot the TV commercial that is claimed to send coup messages.


Meanwhile, on the first anniversary of the arrest of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel last February, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım has said he hopes Yücel will be released soon.

Yücel was working as a correspondent in Turkey for the German Die Welt newspaper when he was taken into custody by police in İstanbul, on February 14, 2017. A warrant for his arrest was issued a short time later. By March, the 43-year-old journalist was transferred to İstanbul’s maximum-security Silivri Prison and courts complex. Many press and rights advocates consider him a hostage of Turkey’s government. Although he has spent one year in jail, he has not yet been indicted.

During an interview with German broadcaster ARD that will be aired on Thursday, Yıldırım said: “I hope that he [Yücel] will be freed soon. I think there will be a development shortly.” Yet, he added that it was not up to him but to the courts.

Yıldırım is expected to discuss the case of Yücel and five other German citizens jailed in Turkey with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on Thursday. Germany sees the arrest of its citizens as politically motivated.

Last April Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said the extradition of Yücel to Germany would never take place as long as he is president. Erdoğan has on many occasions accused Yücel of being a German agent and a representative of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 245 journalists and media workers are in jails as of January 24, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 218 are arrested pending trial, only 27 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 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.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government 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 has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Interior Minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665  people have been arrested. Previously, on December 13, 2017, The Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, said Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Dec. 2, 2018. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “Even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.” (SCF with

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