Çümen, a former responsible managing editor for Zaman daily, convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization”

ÖZGÜN ÖZÇER, İSTANBUL 

Jailed journalist Harun Çümen, who is the former responsible managing editor of the shuttered Zaman newspaper, was sentenced to 7 years and 6 months in prison on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” at the final hearing of his trial on 18 July 2019.

The 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled to keep Çümen, who has been in pre-trial detention for the past 16 months, behind bars during the appeal process.

P24 monitored the hearing, where Çümen addressed the court  via the video-conferencing system SEGBIS from the Balıkesir Prison.  Two of Çümen’s three co-defendants, Adem Aksoy and Mehmet Çokyılmaz, were in attendance in the courtroom while the fourth defendant, Ali Aydeniz, who had submitted a letter of excuse, was absent.

The prosecutor reiterated the final opinion he had presented in the previous hearing and requested all the defendants to be convicted.

Rejecting the accusations in the final opinion, Çümen pointed out that for the allegation of “terrorist organization membership” leveled against him to be valid, there should have been a ruling that declared that the Fethullah Gülen movement was a terrorist organization at the time when the acts presented as evidence took place.

“The date when it was learnt, including by the President, that this group was an armed terrorist organization has been stated as 15 July 2016. It cannot be expected for me as a citizen to know what the president did not know at the time,” Çümen said, adding that according to the Constitution, no one can be imprisoned over a crime that is not known to have been committed.

In relation to the use of his employment at Zaman newspaper as evidence against him, Çümen said: “It is not right to accuse everyone who worked at Zaman of being terrorist group members. Working there does not mean embracing the views of the organization. How could tens of thousands of people who were working to make ends meet have known about a coup plot? I worked at Zaman newspaper for 21 years.” 

In response to his arrest while allegedly trying to flee the country, Çümen told the court that before he was arrested in a public cafeteria in Keşan, there were no investigations against him. He said that the money found in his car at the time of his arrest was the profit he made from the olive trading business he took up in order to have an income as he was unemployed. He said that there was no criminal act that was put into action. He said that the police’s assumption of intention is in question. In relation to an email he had sent in 2013, where he was praising Fethullah Gülen, Çümen said: “Thousands of examples can be given on the topic of praising FETÖ. It is unlawful and discriminatory for a situation that is not considered to be a crime when it comes to certain people to be imputed as a crime in my case. I have been in pre-trial detention for the past 502 days. I don’t have an income. My family has suffered because of this. Considering the amount of time I have been in pre-trial detention I request my release and acquittal.”

Addressing the court after Çümen, his lawyer Gökçen Yaşar pointed out the discrepancies in the final opinion in relation to the flight risk claim. Yaşar said that throughout the trial the allegation had been that Çümen was arrested due to posing a flight risk, but in the final opinion it was alleged that Çümen was responsible for helping FETÖ/PDY members to escape and ask for asylum. Yaşar added, “Abdullah Aymaz was my client’s chief at Zaman newspaper. The claim that they met up in the context of membership in a terrorist organization is groundless. There is not a single evidence to suggest that Çümen is a member of a terrorist organization.” Yaşar concluded by requesting the release and acquittal of his client.

Asked for his final words, Çümen repeated, “I am not guilty, I request my acquittal.”

After a brief recess, the court sentenced Çümen to 7 years and 6 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.” The court also ruled to keep Çümen in detention on remand during the appeal process.

Defendants Adem Aksoy and Mehmet Çokyılmaz were each handed down 6 years and 3 months in prison for “terrorist organization membership” while defendant Ali Aydeniz was sentenced to 3 years, 1 month and 15 days for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”

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