Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Former Zaman columnist Ali Ünal ordered to remain behind bars

Former Zaman columnist Ali Ünal ordered to remain behind bars

Trial of Ünal, who faces aggravated life sentence on “coup” and “terrorism” charges, adjourned until 18 July


Former Zaman columnist Ali Ünal appeared before a court in the western province of Uşak at the third hearing of a case where he faces aggravated life sentence and up to 29,5 years in prison on “coup” and “terrorism” charges.

The Uşak 2nd High Criminal Court ordered the continuation of the imprisonment of Ünal and adjourned the trial until 18 July 2018 at the end of the hearing, held on 10 May. Ünal has been in pre-trial detention since August 2016.

The hearing, monitored by the P24 at the courtroom, began with the prosecutor’s submission of additional evidence against Ünal, which consisted of two columns and a news story published in pro-government dailies Yeni Akit and Akşam.

Ünal’s lawyer Ayşe Sueda Ünal requested Nurettin Veren, who penned the two Yeni Akit columns and Hasan Polat, a defendant in another case whose statement to the prosecutor was mentioned in the Akşam story, to testify before the court. In its interim decision announced at the end of the hearing, the court ruled that Veren and Polat would be interviewed as witnesses in a court near their place of residence and not have to attend the court session in Uşak.

The court also ruled to ask the Information and Communication Technologies Authority (BTK) again to determine the IMEI number of a phone that was seized when Ünal was arrested. The phone was later returned to Ünal’s lawyer but, according to the lawyer, was lost when she moved her office. During the hearing, the presiding judge asked Ünal’s lawyer about the IMEI number, too, but the lawyer protested, asking why the authorities did not get the number during the 16 months when they had the possession of the phone.

Ünal’s statement

Ünal, who attended the hearing through video conferencing system SEGBİS from Buca Kırıklar High Security Prison in İzmir, objected to Veren’s credibility as a witness, saying he was part of the Gülen movement [now called the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) and accused of masterminding the 15 July 2016 coup attempt by the authorities] for 30 years and he turned hostile against him after he had refused to support him as a witness in a lawsuit against Fethullah Gülen.

Ünal also responded to accusations against him, saying he was charged on the basis of 17 articles cited in the indictment but that 11 of them were published in 2011 and 2012 and had nothing to do with the charges.

Ünal said the government had acted together with the Gülen movement until 17 December 2013, when the news of a corruption investigation targeting businessmen and politicians close to the government broke out, and that the pro-government media had also strongly supported the group until that date. “It is unacceptable that such massive support from the government is left aside but I am put on trial for attempted coup by writing columns once a week,” he said.

“One of the biggest supporters of the group of which I am now accused of being a mastermind was the government,” he said. Ünal also denied accusations that he had supported Ergenekon and Balyoz alleged coup plot trials, saying there is not a single column where he clearly spoke in favor of these trials. “The biggest defender of these trials was Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and this is very well known by the public,” he said.

“It is said that this is a terrorist organization that existed for 50 years and that it plotted a coup. Then the politicians, ministers who supported it for 50 years should all be put on trial,” said Ünal, adding: “It is claimed that I knew about the coup attempt five years before it happened and that I guided it with my columns. Then why weren’t there any investigations against me during those five years?”

Ünal also said that he was accused on the basis of “vague statements,” adding that there was no document proving that he received instructions from FETÖ and no solid evidence that neccesiated the continuation of his detention.