Mümtazer Türköne, an academic and columnist for the shuttered Zaman newspaper, was arrested in a series of raids targeting former Zaman journalists and columnists in late July 2016. A court imprisoned him pending trial on 4 August 2016 on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”
According to an indictment submitted to the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court in April 2017, Türköne, along with 29 other defendants, faces three aggravated life sentences on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government, the constitutional order and Parliament,” as well as a prison term of up to 15 years for “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
Türköne and other defendants appeared before a judge for the first hearing of their trial on 18-19 September 2017. The court ruled to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars and lifted the State of Emergency restrictions on access to lawyers.
At the end of the second hearing of the Zaman trial on 8 December 2017, the court released three employees of the Zaman advertising department and ruled to keep all other imprisoned defendants, including Türköne, behind bars.
During the third hearing of the trial on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in prison for “violating the Constitution” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization” for nine of the 11 columnists and journalists standing trial in the case, including Türköne. 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 10-11 May 2018 for the final defense statements.
The fourth hearing was held on 10-11 May 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
On the first day of the hearing, Türköne was one of only two defendants who gave their defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion. Türköne’s objections to the prosecutor’s final opinion on procedural grounds made its mark on the session. Türköne told the court that there were discrepancies between the prosecutor’s final opinion submitted during the previous hearing in April and the latest version of the final opinion handed out to the defendants in CDs to base their final defense statements on. The points raised by Türköne were also highlighted by other defendants who addressed the court later in the hearing.
In his final defense statement, Türköne provided detailed explanations regarding his newspaper columns that are held as evidence against him in the indictment. Noting at the end of his address to the court that he has not finished his defense, Türköne requested additional time to prepare a further statement concerning seven more of his articles on which the accusations are also based.
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, including Mümtazer Türköne, and set 7-8 June 2018 as the dates for the next hearing.
At the end of the fifth hearing, held on 7-8 June 2018, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the continuation of Türköne, Alkan, Karayeğen and Ünal’s detention. 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 5-6 July 2018 as the dates for the next hearing in the case.
Announcing its verdict at the end of the July 5-6 hearing, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul found six of the defendants — including Türköne — guilty of the “membership in a terrorist group” charge, handing down prison sentences of various lengths between 8 years and 9 months and 10.5 years, while acquitting five defendants of all charges.
The court gave the longest sentences in the trial to columnist Türköne and Ankara representative-columnist Mustafa Ünal, sentencing each to 10.5 years in prison. The panel also ruled for the continuation of Türköne and Ünal’s detentions pending the appeal process.
The Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court’s verdict was upheld by a regional court of appeals on 25 June 2019, following which the case was taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
The Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals submitted their opinion on the Zaman trial on 23 December 2019.
The opinion, submitted to the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which will review the case, maintains that prison terms given to columnists Mümtazer Türköne, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mustafa Ünal and night editor İbrahim Karayeğen on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization” should be upheld.
Constitutional Court application
The Constitutional Court’s Second Section ruled that jailed former academic and Zaman columnist Mümtazer Türköne’s detention since August 2016 was not in violation of his right to liberty and security and his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The court also found Türköne’s claims that access to his investigation file was restricted; and that his rights to effectively challenge the lawfulness of his detention and to be presumed innocent were violated to be “inadmissible” on the grounds that all three claims were “manifestly ill-founded.”
The top court’s judgment concerning Türköne’s application was published in the Official Gazette on 10 January 2020. Türköne’s individual application had been pending before the Constitutional Court since 28 March 2017.
Other trials against Türköne
Türköne was also on trial in a separate case in which he was charged in connection with an article published on February 4, 2016. On July 4, 2017, Bakırköy 2nd High Criminal Court, which oversaw the trial, sentenced Türköne to four years and two months in prison for “threatening President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan” in the said column. The court initially sentenced Türköne to five years in prison and then reduced it to four years and two months, taking into consideration Türköne’s “good behavior” during the proceedings.
Another trial where Türköne was charged with “insulting a public official” over an article he penned on 16 March 2014 concluded on 31 October 2019 at Istanbul’s Bakırköy 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. The court fined Türköne TL 1,740 for his article.