The long-running case into 11 former columnists and editors of the Zaman newspaper, closed down in 2016 through a statutory decree, came to an end on July 6. The trial 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 columnists Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural, İhsan Dağı, editor Mehmet Özdemir and lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz of all charges.
The panel found six of the defendants -- columnists Ahmet Turan Alkan, Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Mümtazer Türköne, Zaman’s Ankara representative Mustafa Ünal and the newspaper’s night shift editor İbrahim Karayeğen -- 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.
Alkan, who had been in pretrial detention in Silivri Prison for almost two years as part of the case, was given 8 years and 9 months in prison. The court ruled to release Alkan under judicial control measures.
Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç, both of whom had been released from prison in previous hearings after more than 1.5 years in pretrial detention each, were also sentenced to 8 years and 9 months imprisonment. The court did not rule for their rearrest, but for the continuation of the judicial control measures imposed on both Alpay and Bulaç.
Karayeğen, who has also spent almost two years in pretrial detention in Silivri, was given a nine-year sentence. The court ruled for Karayeğen’s release under judicial control measures.
The court gave the lengthiest sentences in the trial to columnist Türköne and Ankara representative-columnist 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.
In addition to P24, the hearing at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan was monitored by representatives from the London-based free expression advocacy group Article 19, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch (HRW), the German Consulate-General in Istanbul and the EU Delegation in Turkey. Swedish and Norwegian diplomats attended the first day of the hearing on July 5.
The trial, which started more than a year ago, on April 10, 2017, was based on an indictment into 30 people initially. The vast majority of the suspects were arrested and jailed pending trial as part of sweeping operations targeting journalists and columnists working at media outlets linked with the Fethullah Gülen community, which the Turkish government brands as the “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)” and accuses of being the perpetrators behind the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016.
At the end of the third hearing of the case, the court ruled to separate the files of 20 of the defendants who were on trial for their financial involvement with or for having assumed administrational duties within Feza Media Group -- the parent company that included the Zaman newspaper and the Cihan News Agency as well as several other newspapers and television stations linked with the Gülen network.
The remaining 11 defendants in the main case each faced various charges that included “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” “membership in a terrorist organization,” “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” *