10 journalists, media workers from Zaman-Cihan media group sentenced to prison

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An İstanbul court during the fourth hearing on Monday handed down verdicts to 18 Turkish journalists and media employees in a trial concerning Feza Gazetecilik and the Cihan Media Distribution Co., sentencing 10 of them to prison.

The İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which convenes on the campus of Silivri Prison, sentenced Cihan news agency executives Hakan Taşdelen, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş and Faruk Akkan, general director of the Cihan news agency, to nine years in prison and a continuation of their imprisonment while the case is on appeal.

The court has also given seven years, six months in prison to Cihan news agency employees Osman Nuri Arslan, Ahmet İrem and Yüksel Durgut and decided for a continuation of their release under judicial supervision.

The same court sentenced Cuma Kaya, Alaattin Güner, Hüseyin Turan to four years in prison and Murat Avcıoğlu to three years, one month and 15 days and ruled to release them on their own recognizance.

The İstanbul court decided on the acquittal of Zafer Özsoy, Hüseyin Belli, Onur Kutlu, İsmail Küçük and Ali Hüseyin Çelebi on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization and ruled to release all of them from prison.

The court ruled to separate the files of Şeref Yılmaz, Osman Nuri Öztürk and Süleyman Sargın, the general director of Irmak TV, from the case, while it acquitted all other defendants of the charge of involvement in a coup attempt.

The trial of Zaman newspaper employees and columnists Ali Bulaç, İbrahim Karayeğen, Mümtazer Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Mehmet Özdemir, Mustafa Ünal, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Nuriye Ural, İhsan Duran Dağı, Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu and Orhan Kemal Cengiz will start on May 10 at İstanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse.

An İstanbul prosecutor has demanded aggravated life sentences for nine journalists in the trial of employees of the former Zaman daily, which was closed by the government for its alleged affiliation with the Gülen movement.

There are 31 defendants in the indictment, 17 of whom are jailed. Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, Mehmet Özdemir, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Sedat Yetişkin, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut and Zafer Özsoy have been in pretrial detention for almost 19 months.

Eight defendants who were earlier released are Şahin Alpay, İhsan Dağı, Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Nuriye Akman, Lale Kemal, Onur Kutlu, İsmail Küçük and Hüseyin Belli. The remaining journalists are being tried in absentia.

Feza Gazetecilik owned the then-best selling Zaman daily, which was seized by the Turkish government on March 4, 2016 and closed down in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

According to the prosecutor’s legal opinion, the nine prominent journalists, including Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç and Şahin Alpay, “violated the constitution.” In addition, the prosecutor demanded up to 15 years for each of the nine on charges of “membership in an armed organization.”

Other defendants for whom the same sentence was demanded are İbrahim Karayeğen, Mehmet Özdemir, Mustafa Ünal, Ahmet Turan Alkan, İhsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz.

For the 20 other defendants whose verdicts were handed down on Monday, the prosecutor demanded jail sentences of between seven and 15 years at the most recent hearing. Those charges included “membership in an armed organization” and “aiding the organization without being a member of it.”

The court is expected to announce its decision for the columnists and journalists on May 11.

The only evidence cited in the indictment as proof of “terrorism” and “coup plotting” are the published articles and op-ed pieces for some of the defendants, and serving as administrators for the newspaper for others.

Articles that commented on major graft investigations that were made public Dec. 17-25, 2013 and that implicated Erdoğan, his family members and his political and business associates were included in the indictment as criminal evidence and somehow linked to the July 15, 2016 coup attempt.
Ironically, the prosecutor himself said earlier that the articles themselves did not carry any element of crime, yet when considered collectively they must be construed as aiming to overthrow the government.

During the first and second hearings, the defendants persistently asked any for concrete evidence that shows they committed the terror crimes mentioned in the indictment. The prosecutor failed to present any.

Most of the defendants have been jailed since August 2016. On March 20, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the right to liberty and the right freedom of expression of Şahin Alpay had been violated. On March 16, an İstanbul court ordered the conditional release of Alpay, although ruling that Alpay would be subject to house arrest and is forbidden from leaving Turkey.

The European Union and international human rights organizations have been asking the Turkish government to narrow its definition of terrorism and bring it into line with European norms. Turkey, however, refuses to do so.

The public prosecutor had referenced three articles of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) as follows:

TCK 309/1 (Offenses against the Constitutional Order and its Functioning): Any person who attempts to abolish, replace or prevent the implementation of, through force and violence, the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey shall be sentenced to a penalty of aggravated life imprisonment.

TCK 314/2 (Armed Organization): Any person who becomes a member of the organization defined in paragraph one (definition of Armed Organization) shall be sentenced to a penalty of imprisonment for a term of five to ten years.

TCK 220/7 (Establishing Organizations for the Purpose of Committing Crimes): Any person who aids and abets an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization, shall also be sentenced for the offense of being a member of that organization. The sentence to be imposed for being a member of that organization may be decreased by one-third according to the assistance provided.

On March 20, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the right to liberty and the right freedom of expression of Şahin Alpay had been violated. On March 16, an İstanbul court ordered the conditional release of Alpay, although ruling that Alpay would be subject to house arrest and is forbidden from leaving Turkey.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. 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 258 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 29, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 199 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 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 about 200 media outlets after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

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

Fethullah 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.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu announced on April 18, 2018 that the Turkish government had jailed 77,081 people between July 15, 2016 and April 11, 2018 over alleged links to the Gülen movement.

(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF] with Turkish Minute)

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