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 Peace 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 Sarıibrahimoğlu 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.
During the third hearing of the “Zaman trial” on April 5, 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking Sarıibrahimoğlu’s conviction on the charge of “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure” as per TCK 220/7 while requesting that she is acquitted of other charges in the indictment.
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case and adjourned the trial until May 10-11 for the final defense statements.
The fourth hearing was held on May 10 and 11 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
In its interim decision at the end of the two-day hearing, the court ruled to release columnist Ali Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir from pretrial detention, while ordering the lifting of Şahin Alpay’s house arrest. The court ordered the continuation of the detention of the remaining imprisoned defendants in the case and set June 7 and 8 as the dates for the next hearing.
At the end of the fifth hearing, held on June 7-8, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the continuation of the detentions of four of Sarıibrahimoğlu’s co-defendants, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, İbrahim Karayeğen and Mustafa Ünal. One of the judges on the panel gave a dissenting opinion on that ruling. Recalling Ali Bulaç’s release at the end of the previous hearing on grounds that the nature of the allegations against him could be subject to change, the judge asserted that all jailed defendants in the case should have been released based on the principle of legal equality.
The court set July 5 and 6 as the dates for the next hearing in the case.
In its verdict announced at the end of the July 5-6 hearing, the court convicted six of the journalists standing trial of “membership in a terrorist organization” while acquitting five of the defendants.
The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul acquitted Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu of all charges.