Former Milliyet columnist Mehmet Gündem will remain in prison pending trial until the next hearing on 30 October
Mehmet Gündem, a former columnist for daily Milliyet, appeared before an Istanbul court on 14 August 2018 for the first time since his arrest nine months ago.
Gündem is charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” and is accused of using ByLock, an encrypted messaging application purported to be exclusively used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network.
During the first hearing of the trial, the 35th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled for the continuation of Gündem’s detention and set 30 October as the date of the next hearing.
The hearing monitored by P24 in the courtroom was attended by Gündem and his lawyers.
In his first statements to the court since his arrest, Gündem said he had worked as a journalist for 23 years since 1995. Gündem said he had been working as interviewer for daily Zaman for seven years, before joining daily Milliyet and daily Yeni Şafak. He explained that his 2005 interview with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of orchestrating the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, had been expressly requested by his then-employers at daily Milliyet.
Gündem rejected during the hearing all allegations of having downloaded ByLock to his phone. “I have never used ByLock and I’m not a user whatsoever. I believe that there is a mistake,” he said. He also said the telephone number cited in the ByLock report was not his.
“I missed my father’s funeral”
Gündem also denied that his accounts in Bank Asya, a banking company linked to the Fethullah Gülen network, had been opened under the orders of the Gülenist network. “Had I received orders or had I aimed to motivate others, I would have made a call to my readers or to my 54,000 followers on social media,” he told the court. Asked about his acquaintances among “high profile” members of the Fethullah Gülen organization, Gündem said he knew some of those names but strictly in professional or social terms.
While asking for his release, Gündem deplored not being authorized to attend his father’s funeral during his detention. “I couldn’t get the necessary permissions. I missed the funeral. The last nine months were very difficult. It was a punishment rather than a preventive measure,” he said.
In its interim ruling, the court ordered for the continuation of Gündem’s detention due to the nature of the charges levelled against him and argued that there was need for further evidence collection. The court also requested the verification of the ByLock report on Gündem before adjourning the trial until 30 October.