Hanım Büşra Erdal, a court reporter and a columnist for the shuttered Zaman and Yeni Hayat dailies, was arrested on July 26 at her family’s home in the western province of Manisa as part of a crackdown on journalists suspected of links with the banned movement led by Fethullah Gülen.

Erdal was charged with “terrorist group membership” based on some of her Twitter posts and newspaper columns, along with 28 others in a case dubbed “media arm of FETÖ.” On March 31, at the end of the first hearing of her trial, the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court ruled to release her and 20 other suspects pending trial. However, Erdal and seven others were rearrested upon leaving the prison compound after the prosecutor objected to their release. All three judges and prosecutor of the case were suspended temporarily for the decision to release the 21 defendants.

Erdal and other defendants appeared before a new panel of judges for the second hearing of their trial on April 27. The judges ruled to continue detention of all imprisoned suspects, 20 in total, and adjourned the trial until July 6, 2017. In that hearing, the trial was once again adjourned until October 24.

In their interim decision at the end of the hearing on October 24, judges of the court ruled for the release of defendants Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy and Davut Aydın, while the rest of the defendants in the case, including Erdal, were ordered to remain in pre-trial detention and the trial was adjourned until December 4, 2017.

At the end of that hearing, the court ruled for the continued detention of all 20 imprisoned defendants, while the trial was adjourned until February 6, 2018. 

During the February 6, 2018, hearing, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion on the case, laying out the charges and the punishment he requests for the defendants. The prosecutor requested the court to acquit 13 defendants of “coup” charges. He requested that all but three defendants, Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık, be charged with “membership in FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization” while the rest be charged with “aiding the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization without being a part of its hierarchical structure.”

During the next hearing of the case, held over two days, on February 22-23, 2018, the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul heard the final defense statements of 13 defendants. The court then adjourned the trial until March 7-8, 2018, for the remaining final defense statements.

On the second day of the final hearing, on March 8, 2018, the court announced its verdict, convicting 25 journalists in the case of terrorism-related charges.

Erdal and 10 other journalists were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The court also ruled for the continuation of detention of the imprisoned defendants in the case.

In October, the appeals against prison sentences given to 25 defendants in the case were rejected by an appellate court. The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rendered its decision on 22 October. The court made the ruling without a public hearing despite defense lawyers’ requests for a hearing. The appellate court also ruled for the continuation of detention of all jailed defendants in the case.

Convictions against the journalists are now expected to be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Erdal is currently jailed at İstanbul’s Bakırköy Women’s Prison.

Click here to read Büşra Erdal’s answers to our questionnaire about prison conditions.

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