Four journalists remain behind bars at the end of fourth hearing in Zaman case; court adjourns trial until June 7

The fourth hearing in the long-running trial into 11 former columnists and editors of the shuttered Zaman daily was held on May 10 and 11 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

The journalists stand accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and the terrorism-related charges of “membership in a terrorist group,” “conducting propaganda for a terrorist group” and “aiding a terrorist organization” in the case.

In its interim decision at the end of the two-day hearing, the court ruled to release veteran columnist Ali Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir from pretrial detention, while ordering the lifting of Şahin Alpay’s house arrest. Alpay had been under house arrest since mid-March, when he was released from Silivri Prison after more than 590 days in pretrial detention.

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 — columnists Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Ankara representative Mustafa Ünal and night editor İbrahim Karayeğen. The court set June 7 and 8 as the dates for the next hearing.

The other defendants in the case who are not in pretrial detention are columnists İhsan Dağı, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural and lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who was also a former columnist for the shuttered Today’s Zaman and Bugün dailies.

In addition to the P24, the hearing at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan was monitored by representatives from the international rights groups and organizations defending freedom of expression Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Article 19, Amnesty International, Civil Rights Defenders (CRD) and Human Rights Watch, as well as representatives from the EU delegation in Turkey and the Swedish Consul General in İstanbul.

Final defense statements 

On the first day of the hearing, Türköne and Cengiz were the only two defendants who gave their defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion.

Türköne’s objections to the prosecutor’s final opinion on procedural grounds made its mark on that session. Türköne told the court that there were discrepancies between the prosecutor’s final opinion submitted during the previous hearing on April 5 and the latest version of the final opinion handed out to the defendants in CDs to base their final defense statements on. The points raised by Türköne were also highlighted by other defendants who addressed the court later in the hearing.

The prosecutor seeks an aggravated life sentence and an additional 15 years in prison for Türköne on the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “membership in a terrorist organization.” In his final defense statement, Türköne provided detailed explanations regarding his newspaper columns that are held as evidence against him in the indictment. 

Noting at the end of his address to the court that he has not finished his defense, Türköne requested additional time to prepare a further statement concerning seven more of his articles on which the accusations are also based.

Addressing the court following Türköne, Cengiz said he was on trial not for his newspaper columns but for being the lawyer who has brought the Zaman case before the Constitutional Court. He requested his acquittal.

The prosecutor seeks up to 13 years in prison for Cengiz on the charge of “repeatedly conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization,” as amended in the additional final opinion on the case he presented to the trial court on April 24.

Second day of hearing 

Ali Bulaç, facing an aggravated life sentence and an additional 15 years in prison on the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “membership in a terrorist organization,” was the first to address the court on the second day. Bulaç requested additional time for his defense statement and demanded his release from pretrial detention over health concerns.

Following Bulaç, Mehmet Özdemir addressed the court. Charged in the prosecutor’s additional final opinion of “leading an armed terrorist organization,” Özdemir requested that the charges be dropped and that he be acquitted.

Ankara representative Ünal, speaking after Özdemir, said in his lengthy defense statement that his right to a fair trial was being violated and that he was the target of a smear campaign. Touching upon the Constitutional Court’s and the European Court of Human Rights’ judgments in favor of Şahin Alpay, Ünal said those judgments have rendered this case invalid.

Ünal is also one of the five defendants in the case who faces an aggravated life sentence and a possible further 15 years in prison on “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “membership in a terrorist group” charges.

Columnist Ahmet Turan Alkan, also facing an aggravated life sentence and an additional 15 years in prison, requested additional time to prepare his final defense statement and also demanded that he is released from detention and acquitted of all charges.

Zaman’s night editor İbrahim Karayeğen, for whom the prosecutor also seeks up to 22.5 years in prison on the charge of “leading an armed terrorist organization,” also requested his release from detention and his acquittal.