Şahin Alpay is a 74-year-old political scientist and a long-time columnist for the shuttered Zaman daily.
He was arrested on July 27, 2016, as part of a sweeping operation targeting former columnists and executives of Zaman and was imprisoned pending trial along with fellow columnists including Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Mustafa Ünal on July 31. The court said that Alpay and others wrote columns praising what the government refers to as the “Fetullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)” and continued to work for Zaman even after its then editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, was charged with “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.” The court maintained that Zaman was the media organ of FETÖ/PDY.
Alpay’s lawyers applied to the Constitutional Court on September 8, 2016, requesting an interim measure to end his imprisonment and maintaining that his detention amounts to violation of his constitutional rights. On October 26, 2016, the top court rejected the request for an interim measure.
Alpay’s lawyers then took his case to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on February 20, 2017. On March 3, the Strasbourg court also rejected the request for an interim measure but decided to give priority treatment to Alpay’s application.
An indictment accepted in April 2017 by the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul seeks three aggravated life sentences for Alpay and 29 other suspects on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, the Parliament and the constitutional order. Alpay and others also face an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist group.”
Alpay appeared before a court for the first time on September 18, 2017, for the first hearing of his trial. In his defense statement to the court, Alpay described himself as a “true liberal” and rejected the accusations cited in the indictment, calling for his release from prison so that he can “spend the final years of my life with my wife, children and grandchildren.”
The full text of Alpay’s defense statement can be read here.
During the second hearing in the case, held on December 8, 2017, Alpay told the court that his health continued to deteriorate and that he was told that he needed a coronary angiogram.
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.”
The court ruled to release three advertising department employees of Zaman daily, while ordering that Alpay and other imprisoned defendants remain behind bars. The court also set April 5, 2018, as the date of the third hearing in the case.
On January 11, 2018, the Constitutional Court issued its judgment concerning the individual application on behalf of Alpay, ruling that his pretrial detention violated his rights to personal liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
An English translation of the January 11, 2018, Constitutional Court ruling on Alpay can be found here.
However, both the trial court, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, and the next court of first instance authorized to review objections, refused numerous petitions filed by Alpay’s lawyers requesting his release in accordance with the Constitutional Court ruling.
Upon the trial court’s failure to implement the Constitutional Court ruling, Alpay’s lawyer lodged a new application before the Constitutional Court on February 1, 2018.
Responding to the application, the Constitutional Court said the application was granted priority status given the “nature of the matter at hand.”
Meanwhile the ECtHR stated in a letter in early March to Alpay’s lawyers that it will issue its judgment concerning his individual application on March 20.
On March 13, the Constitutional Court announced that it would review Alpay’s application on March 15.
The top court rendered its judgment on March 16, 2018, ruling once again in favor of Alpay. The court said the lower court’s failure to implement its earlier ruling resulted in the violation of Alpay’s right to personal liberty and security under Article 19 of the Constitution and ordered the trial court to release Alpay to remedy the violation.
In a few hours, the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court ordered the release of Alpay but ruled that he would be placed under house arrest. Alpay was released from prison in the early hours of March 17, 2018.
During the third hearing of the “Zaman trial,” held on April 5, 2018, at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, 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 standing trial in the case, including Alpay. He also requested that all imprisoned defendants are remanded in pretrial detention, while he did not request the arrest of five of the columnists who are not in prison, including Şahin Alpay, under house arrest since March 16.
In his address to the court during the hearing, Alpay said that new allegations that were not present in the indictment were introduced in the prosecutor’s final opinion, and asked for additional time. He also noted that he made 88 visits to the hospital during the past 20 months but currently being under house arrest prevented him from going to the hospital for his chronic ailments due to his advanced age. He requested the court to lift his house arrest.
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 rejected Alpay’s request for the lifting of his house arrest. The court adjourned the trial until May 10-11 for the final defense statements.
The fourth hearing in the long-running trial 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 ordered for Şahin Alpay’s house arrest to be lifted and also ruled to release veteran columnist Ali Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir from pretrial detention. The court imposed judicial control measures on all three, including Alpay, in the form of reporting to the nearest police station once every week on Sundays.
The next hearing in the case is set for June 7 and 8.
At the end of the fifth hearing, held on June 7-8, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the continuation of the detention of Alpay’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.
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 Şahin Alpay, guilty of the “membership in a terrorist group” charge, while acquitting the rest of the defendants of all charges.
Şahin Alpay was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months imprisonment. The court did not rule for his rearrest, but ordered the continuation of the judicial control measure imposed on Alpay pending the appeal process.