İsmet Özçelik, a Turkish academic who was forcibly brought from Malaysia to Turkey in 2017 due to his alleged links to the Gülen movement, has been given a jail sentence of almost 10 years without even being able to present his final defense, according to a report on the Bold Medya news website on Thursday.
In addition to Özçelik, Turgay Karaman, a school principal, and İhsan Arslan, a businessman, who were detained in Kuala Lumpur at Turkey’s request in May 2017, were immediately arrested after being deported to Turkey from Malaysia as part of investigations into the Gülen movement.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
Özçelik was indicted on charges of depositing money to now-closed Islamic lender Bank Asya, which was linked to the Gülen movement, and using the ByLock smartphone application, which is claimed to be the main tool of communication among followers of the movement by Turkish authorities. Both acts are considered criminal activity by the Turkish judiciary, which has been harshly criticized for acting on orders from the government.
The Konya 2nd High Criminal Court, where Özçelik stood trial, made its final ruling at a hearing on Thursday, handing down a nine-year, 11 month sentence to Özçelik on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization.
Özçelik was unable to participate in the hearing for a time due to a technical problem in the IT Voice and Image System (SEGBİS). In the meantime, the court began to draft its final ruling in violation of judicial rules because the defendant’s final defense had not been heard.
When Özçelik was able to take part in the hearing via the SEGBİS system, the court asked him to briefly make his final remarks. The academic could not defend himself against the charges added later to the indictment such as his working at a Gülen-linked organization and his social media posts from the year 2015 including links to Gülen-linked media organizations. These new charges were considered terrorist propaganda and terrorist organization membership, while there was no reference to the previous charges concerning Bank Asya and ByLock as the UN Human Rights Committee had said in a previous statement that depositing money in Bank Asya and using ByLock cannot be regarded as criminal activity.
In May the UN Human Rights Committee called on the Turkish authorities to release Özçelik and Karaman, saying the country had violated the two men’s freedoms.
“The State party is obligated … to release the authors (of the complaint) and provide them with adequate compensation for the violations suffered,” the committee’s report on the case said, noting that Turkey’s membership in an international rights covenant required it to act and provide “effective remedy.”