Ali Bulaç, a sociologist, theologian, and a former columnist for the shuttered Zaman daily, was imprisoned along with other Zaman columnists on terrorism charges in late July 2016. The judge who ordered detention of Bulaç and other former Zaman columnists cited their failure to severe ties with the daily even after its former editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, was indicted for membership of an armed terrorist organization.
The 66-year-old faces three aggravated life sentences for his work for Zaman on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government, the constitutional order and Parliament” and an additional prison term of up to 15 years on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Bulaç, who is tried along with 29 others, appeared before a court for the first time during the first hearing of his trial on 18-19 September 2017, presenting his defense statement.“I think the Fethullah Gülen movement was good when it was just a community,” Bulaç said in his defense statement. “Over time, it turned evil and became FETÖ,” an acronym for “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.”
The court ruled to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars and lifted the State of Emergency restrictions on access to lawyers.
On 8 December 2017, Bulaç appeared again before the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court for the second hearing of his trial, at the end of which the court released three employees of the Zaman advertising department and ruled to keep all other imprisoned defendants, including Bulaç, behind bars.
During the third hearing of the “Zaman trial” on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in prison for “violating the Constitution” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization” for nine of the 11 columnists standing trial in the case, including Bulaç. Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case, including Bulaç, and adjourned the trial until 10-11 May for the final defense statements.
The fourth hearing was held on 10-11 May at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
In its interim decision at the end of the two-day hearing, the court ruled to release Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir from pretrial detention, while ordering the lifting of Şahin Alpay’s house arrest. The court imposed overseas travel bans on both Bulaç and Özdemir while ordering judicial control measures for all three, including Alpay, in the form of reporting to the nearest police station once every week on Sundays. The court ordered the continuation of the detention of the remaining imprisoned defendants in the case.
Bulaç was released from Silivri Prison on May 11, after spending 22 months in pretrial detention.
At the two-day hearing on June 7-8, Bulaç gave his final defense statement saying Zaman had been a legitimate media outlet until the day it was closed down and that he could not be accused for having worked there as a columnist, or for the escape of the newspaper’s editor in chief. “I am being incriminated based on the newspaper I wrote for,” said Bulaç, adding that the content of his writing was being ignored.
At the end of the fifth hearing, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the continuation of the detention of four of Bulaç’s co-defendants — Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, İbrahim Karayeğen and Mustafa Ünal. One of the judges on the panel gave a dissenting opinion on that ruling. Recalling Bulaç’s release at the end of the previous hearing on grounds that the nature of the allegations against him could be subject to change, the judge asserted that all jailed defendants in the case should have been released based on the principle of legal equality.
The court set July 5 and 6 as the dates for the next hearing in the case.
Announcing its verdict at the end of the July 5-6 hearing, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul found six journalists on trial, including Bulaç, guilty of “membership in a terrorist organization” while acquitting five of the defendants.
Bulaç was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months imprisonment. The court did not rule for Bulaç’s rearrest, but ordered the continuation of the judicial control measure imposed on Bulaç.
Constitutional Court application
On 3 May 2019, the Constitutional Court’s Plenary rendered its judgment concerning Bulaç’s individual application, ruling that his pre-trial detention violated his rights to liberty and security. The court rendered the decision through a majority vote.