Court releases three employees of shuttered newspaper’s advertising department 

 

The second hearing in a case where 31 defendants including former columnists for the shuttered Zaman daily Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Mustafa Ünal are standing trial on “coup” and “membership in a terrorist organization” charges was held on December 8 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.

The newspaper’s advertising department employees Hüseyin Belli, Onur Kutlu and İsmail Küçük were released pending trial at the end of the hearing, during which the panel ruled for continuation of detention for the rest of the defendants. The trial was adjourned to April 5, 2018.

The audience at the hearing, held at the courtroom in the Silivri Prison premises, included observers from international civil society organizations Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the London-based freedom of expression advocacy group Article 19 as well as the P24.

Ahmet İrem, Ali Hüseyinçelebi, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Nuriye Ural (Akman), Lale Kemal, İhsan Dağı, Orhan Kemal Cengiz and Osman Nuri Arslan made defense statements for the first time in the hearing.

İrem, who said he was an accountant for the shuttered Cihan News Agency, said his name was only mentioned at the introduction and conclusion paragraphs of the indictment, and that he did not know the charges brought against him. Hüseyinçelebi, who said he was an employee at the newspaper’s classified ads department, said he did not have any authority to sign any documents at the department. Denying the charges, Hüseyinçelebi requested his acquittal.

Timaş Publications’ former Executive Board Chairman Osman Nuri Öztürk said he only had a 4 percent share in the company Cihan Media Distribution Inc., adding that when he became a partner the company was not related to Feza Inc. He added: “When I became a partner I figured out that the business that I had in mind could not have been done there. I resigned in 2013.”

“Ertuğrul Özkök requested the Gülen interview” 

Zaman columnist Nuriye Ural (Akman) denied the  “membership in a terrorist organization” and “coup” charges, adding: “I started working at the Zaman newspaper on financial grounds after I resigned from the Sabah group in 2002. In 2008 I received an offer from Hürriyet, which I accepted. However, a few days later they [Hürriyet management] told me they could not continue working with me because I was writing for Zaman. Thus I continued working for Zaman. I have never considered [Fethullah] Gülen a leader upon whose ideas to lead my life. It is true that I [am the journalist who] made the first ever interview with Gülen 20 years ago. At that time I was working at Sabah daily. The task of conducting an interview with Gülen was assigned to me by Ertuğrul Özkök when I was working at Hürriyet. I could only conduct that interview after I started working at Sabah.”

Lale Kemal: I resisted coup plotters and I paid the price 

Former Zaman columnist Lale Kemal, who participated in the hearing via SEGBİS, said in her defense statement: ”Although no evidence against me is included in the indictment, I am facing three aggravated life sentences. A sentence pulled from inside a newspaper article does not prove the existence of the violence and menace elements that constitute the coup offense.” Noting that throughout her 30-year career as a journalist she has fought against interventions on politics, Kemal presented to the court a reference letter about her written by the prestigious defense industry journal Jane’s Defense, for which Kemal has worked as a correspondent for over 20 years.

Noting that she supported the reforms the government introduced during its early years, Kemal argued that the July 15 coup attempt would not have taken place had the government continued to enact more reforms. “I would like to point out that in my article on July 17, two days after the coup attempt, I wrote that one of the main reasons behind the attempt was that the government had failed to put an end to military tutelage in Turkey,” she said.

“The very reason why I am appearing before this court today is the fact that throughout my career, I have always opposed those who have had putschist inclinations,” Kemal said, noting that she was the first journalist to put forward the idea of “the democratic surveillance of the military.” Adding that this stance of hers has always drawn the ire of the military, Kemal said: “I believe this hatred is behind the fact that I am standing trial today without evidence, without foundation.”

Also denying “membership in a terrorist organization” charges, Kemal said, “How was I supposed to know about the terrorist organization mentioned in the indictment about which neither the national intelligence, nor the state, or top level military had any knowledge or suspicion?”

Dağı: I quit Zaman when I saw it became a FETÖ propaganda tool 

Also speaking via SEGBİS, former Zaman columnist İhsan Dağı made his defense statement, in which he said the indictment did not include a single piece of evidence against him regarding its accusations. Dağı said: “The indictment features only one document, which is the document showing that I am not a ByLock user. I am being accused on account of writing columns for Zaman, but I had already given up writing for Zaman following the December 17-25 period. I resigned when I understood that the newspaper had turned into a propaganda tool for FETÖ. I did not write for another paper either, and did not appear on television [programs]. I am not a journalist, I am an academic.”

Dağı requested his acquittal.

Orhan Kemal Cengiz: We are trying to figure out why I am here 

Speaking after Dağı, columnist and lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz said, “We have been trying to figure out for the past two hearings the reason why I am here, for the indictment fails to explain it. My name is among columnists [against whom there are accusations] in the indictment, but there are no accusations regarding any of the articles I wrote.”

Şahin Alpay: My pretrial detention has turned into a prison sentence 

The hearing continued with the defense statements of the detained suspects. Former Zaman columnist Şahin Alpay, who has been in prison for 500 days now, said about his pretrial detention which has already exceeded 16 months that it has by now turned into a prison sentence.

“I am a suspect only because I have written columns for the Zaman newspaper and I am being deprived of my liberty,” said Alpay, adding: “I would have immediately discontinued writing for Zaman had there been any court judgment that ruled that the Fethullah Gülen movement was a criminal organization. I condemn the July 15 coup attempt. And for this reason I am remorseful that I had written for Zaman. I have always been against military coups all my life. I should have lost my mental capacity to have supported the July 15 attempt. I admit to being misguided in not having been able to see the dark side to the Gülen movement.”

Pointing out that the criticism in his articles was against a one-man regime, and that he has never attempted to overthrow the government or the Parliament, the 73-year-old Alpay continued: “I am not a terrorist. All my life I have been against violence and terrorism.”

Speaking after Alpay, columnist Mustafa Ünal said that he has written thousands of articles for the newspaper and that none of them included a single word in support of the coup, adding: “I am not a member of a [terrorist] organization. If you claim otherwise, you need to prove it.”

Other defendants who spoke during the hearing were Ahmet Turan Alkan, who argued in his statement that the trial was politically motivated; Mümtazer Türköne, who said he and most of his co-defendants were not informed of the charges and the evidence against them; and columnist Ali Bulaç, who also denied the “membership in terrorist organization” charges.

During the hearing, documents regarding the application ByLock on the cellphones belonging to detained suspects Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, İbrahim Karayeğen and Hakan Taşdelen was read out. The accusation was denied by all three defendants, who said that previous documents had held the application was not found on their cell phones.

The court issued an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, in which it rejected the pleas for the lifting of the travel ban on undetained suspects who are pending trial.