Court expected to issue verdict concerning 11 columnists and editors of shuttered Zaman newspaper, on trial on “coup” and terrorism-related charges 

Eleven former columnists and editors of the shuttered Zaman newspaper are set to appear before the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on May 10 and 11 for what is expected to be the final hearing in their long-running case.

Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, İhsan Dağı, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural, lawyer and Bugün newspaper columnist Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Zaman’s former responsible managing editor Mehmet Özdemir, former Ankara representative and columnist Mustafa Ünal and night editor İbrahim Karayeğen will make their final defense statements in response to the accusations in the prosecutor’s final opinion in the two-day hearing, which will be monitored in the courtroom by P24.

In his final opinion submitted in the latest hearing of the case on April 5, the prosecutor accused Zaman journalists and writers of “laying the groundwork for the [July 15, 2016] coup” through their columns, articles and remarks made during TV appearances. 

The prosecutor requested aggravated life sentences on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” as per Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK) and additional 15 years in prison each on the “membership in an armed terrorist organization” charge as per TCK Article 314/2 for imprisoned columnists Bulaç, Türköne, Alkan and for Alpay, Cengiz and Dağı, who are not imprisoned.

The 74-year-old Alpay has been under house arrest since March 16, when he was released from the Silivri Prison after more than 590 days in detention after the Constitutional Court ruled for a second time that his imprisonment on remand was in violation of his right to liberty.

The prosecutor also sought the same sentences for editors Özdemir and Karayeğen and Ankara representative Ünal.

However, the prosecutor amended the accusations targeting four of the suspects in his final opinion with an additional opinion filed on April 24, dropping the “coup” charges for Cengiz, Dağı, Özdemir and Karayeğen. Instead, the additional final opinion calls for prison terms for Özdemir and Karayeğen on the charge of “leading an armed terrorist organization,” punishable by up to 22.5 years. As for Dağı and Cengiz, the prosecutor seeks up to 13 years in jail on the less severe charge of “repeatedly conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

As for Sarıibrahimoğlu and Ural, who are also not in detention, the prosecutor seeks prison sentences on the charge of “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure” as per TCK 220/7 while requesting that the two journalists are acquitted of other charges in the indictment.

The “Zaman trial” was opened more than a year ago, on April 10, 2017, when the court accepted a long-awaited indictment into the 30 suspects in the initial case. The vast majority of the suspects were arrested and jailed pending trial as part of sweeping operations targeting journalists and columnists writing for Fethullah Gülen network affiliated media outlets in the aftermath of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt. The government accuses the Gülen network of being the perpetrators behind the failed coup.

The main Zaman trial was divided into four separate trials at the end of the third hearing on April 5, 2018. The court ruled to separate the files of 18 defendants who were employed by or executives of various other companies purported to be linked with the Gülen network, and those of two defendants who requested to benefit from effective repentance law. The court issued its verdict in the case with the 18 defendants on April 30, convicting 10 of the suspects for “membership in a terrorist organization” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member” while acquitting five of the suspects and separating the files of three people.