Lalezer Sarıibrahimoğlu (pen name Lale Kemal), a veteran defense reporter and a former columnist with the Zaman daily, was detained on 26 July 2016 in a post-coup investigation into Zaman’s former writers and employees. She was one of the 47 Zaman columnists and employees who were wanted for membership in “FETÖ/PDY,” the name given to the Fethullah Gülen network by Turkish authorities.
On July 30, Sarıibrahimoğlu, along with former Zaman columnists Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Mustafa Ünal, Nuriye Ural, Mümtazer Türköne and Ahmet Turan Alkan, were jailed pending trial as per a decision of the Istanbul 4th Criminal Judgeship of Peace.
On October 12, 2016, she was released after a regular detention review by the 10th Criminal Judgeship of Piece along with Ural. Both were let go under judicial control measures.
Sarıibrahimoğlu was released pending trial on the ground that the nature of the alleged crime, i.e., FETÖ membership, can change in her favor.
On April 24, 2017, an indictment into 30 suspects, including Sarıibrahimoğlu and other former Zaman writers and employees, was accepted by the 13th High Criminal Court. The indictment accuses the suspects of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” “attempting to abolish the Parliament or render it unable to perform its duties,” and “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or render it unable to perform its duties,” charges that carry three aggravated life terms without the possibility of parole, and an additional term of maximum 15 years on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
In the indictment, the only reference to the alleged crime that Sarıibarihmoğlu is charged with appears on page 42, and her name is mentioned only once under her pen name Lale Kemal. This reference to her comprises only one sentence and the indictment says it to be dated 18 January 2014, even though she was not working for Zaman at that time. Sarıibrahimoğlu presented to the court in writing a proof that she had started working for Zaman in June 2014, not in January 2014, when she made her defense statement.
The prosecutor claims that Sarıibrahimoğlu attempted to “manipulate the public opinion in favor of FETÖ” by writing “…I find it dangerous that citizens are still afraid of being profiled simply because of their beliefs and ideas… [Creation of this fear] can only take place in former communist countries, in less developed dictatorial nations.”
No other reference to Sarıibrahimoğlu or her writings is provided in the 64-page indictment or in the additional documents included in the case file by the prosecutor.
Sarıibrahimoğlu stated that the fact that she faced aggravated life sentences based on a quote claimed to belong to her, from a period when she was not even working for Zaman, demonstrated the weakness and unseriousness of the indictment.
According to the indictment, “The excerpts provided from the articles of columnists working for FETÖ/PDY media outlets have not been tweezed out; they cannot be taken as metaphors or analogies given the circumstances and the historical perspective; they are not only opposing the government and even in articles where there is no visible element of crime, the defendants have used expressions that violate the rights of state authorities and agencies beyond limits of freedom of expression, and it has been understood that by doing so, they have served the purpose of the organization.”
Sarıibrahimoğlu and the other Zaman columnists and executives appeared before a court on September 18 – 19, 2017 and presented their defense statements in a courtroom at the campus of the Silivri Prison Complex.
Sarıibrahimoğlu, who was released earlier on judicial control, attended the session via video-conferencing system SEGBİS. Her testimony was left to the next session, due to the high number of defendants.
Sarıibrahimoğlu gave her defense statement at the second hearing, held on December 8, 2017. She rejected accusations saying there was no evidence cited against her justifying the prosecution. She said she was punished throughout her career because of her steadfast opposition to military intervention in politics and tutelage.
“As a matter of fact I strongly believe that I have been subjected to a vengeance of those circles who hated my struggle for ending military tutelage system, exploiting the failed coup to intimidate and silence me,” she said at the court.
“Again in the same indictment, it states that the defendants in their articles did not hesitate to make calls for the coup. With this false claim, the indictment insults my integrity personally and professionally,” she said, adding that as a journalist, she has tirelessly fought against the coups throughout her 37-year long career and always maintained her position against military tutelage, despite being bullied, threatened and verbally attacked by a wide range of pro-military pundits as well as the top command of the Turkish Armed Forces.
Three imprisoned defendants were released at the end of the hearing while the court ruled to keep an international ban on defendants who are not in jail, including Sarıibrahimoğlu, in place.
The next hearing in the trial will be held on April 5, 2018.