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22 September

Journalists in State of Emergency – 91

Courts rule to keep journalists in prison in the Altans and former Zaman writers’ cases

 
 
 
The second hearing in the trial of 17 defendants, including journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak on charges of “attempting a military takover” was heard by the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court on September 19.
 
The court ruled to keep all of the six imprisoned suspects in prison and rejected demands from suspect lawyers to remove restrictions imposed on lawyer visits. The court also ruled to not hear testimony from witnesses Nurettin Veren and secret witness Söğüt, who are both quoted in the indictment. The ruling also separated the investigation into ten defendants, who are at large. A request from  one defendant who is on trial but not imprisoned for lifting the judicial control measures was rejected.
 
The court also asked the prosecution to submit its final opinion before the final ruling is made.
 
The six imprisoned suspects are novelist and journalist Ahmet Altan, academic and columnist Mehmet Altan, journalist Nazlı Ilıcak, visual editor for the shuttered daily Zaman Fevzi Yazıcı, Zaman’s advertising and marketing director Yakup Şimşek, former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül. Tibet Murat Sanlıman, the owner of an advertising agency that worked with Zaman, is on trial but not under arrest.
 
Nazlı Ilıcak was the first to submit a statement in the hearing. “I thought I would be able to convince you of my innocence in the first hearing three months earlier. But you did not release me, saying there is concrete evidence against me, but you have yet to present this concrete evidence.” She said it was the court’s obligation to prove that she knew of the 15 July coup attempt or that she helped prepare fertile ground for it – the main accusations against the defendants – with concrete evidence.
 
She said the prosecution’s comment that a statement she made had “coup connotations” was too general, demanding that the prosecution names the exact sentence. “He is always making general statements. When did I ever praise the coup?” she asked.
 
Ilıcak also made a point about journalists who were supportive of the Fethullah Gülen network – which the Turkish government says is behind the coup – but who have now allied with the government. “Did I ever buy a villa using a loan from Bank Asia,” she asked, referring to the financial institution – first seized by the government and then shut down shortly after the coup. “Those who pursue their self-interest are not in prison.” She also said that a photograph showing her in a snowball fight with prosecutor Zekeriya Öz – who had conducted the investigations into military officials and some journalists during the Ergenekon trials – her 15 months employment at Bugün and 11 tweets were presented in the indictment as proof that she was a “main element in the coup.”
 
She said the concept of “immaterial violence” was introduced after the 1960 coup détat specifically to enable the execution of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and two of his ministers. “I am making this comparison so that a historical event can set an example. Journalists cannot be tried on articles that do not constitute a crime.”
 
Ilıcak also said that she didn’t know any of the suspects other than Ahmet and Mehmet Altan. “Why am I being tried along with the others?” she asked.
 
The journalist read out tweets from the other defendants in the case who have not been apprehended, most of which suggested that the tweets’ writers had prior knowledge of the coup. “They are the ones who knew about the coup and they’ve all fled,” she said.
 
“Remember that what we call FETÖ today was seen as a religious network in the past,” Ilıcak said, saying the boundaries of what constitutes “FETÖ” – the name given to the Fethullah Gülen network by the Turkish government which lists it as a terrorist organization – should be drawn properly.
 
The 73-year old journalist has been in prison for 14 months.
 
Ahmet Altan: Judges are the most important source of confidence for the state
 
Ahmet Altan, who testified via the court conferencing system SEGBIS from Silivri Prison, said the court had to offer evidence to prove that the alleged crimes have been committed. “Either you will end this nonsense by saying “there is no solid evidence” or you will show us some ‘solid evidence.’ Or, you will insist on saying ‘there is solid evidence’ while there is no solid evidence and thus lose your integrity and your qualification as a judge.”
 
Altan who is charged with attempting a coup d'etat and risking three life terms without parole “Now, I’ll say something loud and clear to this court, to this country and to those around the world who have taken an interest in this trial: Show us even a single piece of concrete evidence of the strange allegations against us, and I will not defend myself anymore. Even if I am sentenced to the gravest penalty I will not appeal the ruling. I am saying this loud and clear. Show me a single piece of evidence and I will waive my right to appeal. I will submit to spending the rest of my life in a prison cell.”
 
Full text of Altan’s statement to the court can be read here.
 
Mehmet Altan: The indictment is a disgrace
 
Mehmet Altan, who testified later in the hearing said: The fact that I was arrested on the basis of a charge that is not described in the Turkish Criminal Code – i.e., is not a crime – and that such a legal scandal was then supported by a Criminal Judgeship of Peace, demonstrate from the outset that my imprisonment for over
a year has nothing to do with the law. He said the indictment, based on a single-line allegation rooted in an assumption was a “document of shame.”
 
“The indictment speaks of  ‘… the coup attempt that they knew about …’ How do we know about the coup? There is no proof, no evidence provided.” He said the claim that he, Ahmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak discussed the coup on the TV program aired on the night of July 14 was a “big lie.”
 
Six one-dollar notes – which might suggest membership of the Gülen network according to Turkish judiciary – seized in Mehmet Altan’s home were also brought to the court. The judge examined the dollar notes, saying one of them had a torn edge. Mehmet Altan said he would be filing charges against the prosecution for leaking a video of the search of his home to pro-government media and media directly controlled by the government.
 
He also criticized the court’s explanation that he is a flight risk for not releasing him. “”I have never been involved in an illegitimate endeavour throughout my
life. I would not even lift a finger, let alone flee” he said.
 
“Lastly, I would like to remind you that many defendants facing charges
similar to mine are being tried without being imprisoned, while some
others have been released awaiting trial. Do we, then, have an arbitrary situation? I want to believe that they are fair, impartial, independent, objective and that they stand by the law,” he said.
 
The full text of Mehmet Altan’s statement can be found here.
 
“Immaterial violence” unlawful as a concept
 
Veysel Ok, the lawyer representing the Altan brothers, said a recent ruling by the 16th Chamber of Court of Cassation had established in an appeals hearing about one of the ongoing coup cases that the incidence of “violence” – a condition sought to prove participation in the coup attempt. He said the chamber’s ruling made it clear that “physical and material violence” is the condition for proving the act.
 
Ok quoted the chamber’s ruling: “Immaterial violence doesn’t exist in the law and such an evaluation being made in proceedings would be a manifestation of fascism and that the concept was brought by the post-1960 military courts known as the Yassıada Tribunals.”
 
Ok requested the release of his clients on the grounds that they were not a flight risk, and even speaking of such a risk in the case of these two individuals is a disgrace and that the indictment includes no other evidence than statements, oral and in writing.
 
He said the high court ruling on immaterial violence and the two brothers’ case being reviewed by the ECtHR were also important points.
 
Ergin Cinmen, another lawyer representing the Altans, said it was likely that the European court would find rights violations in the proceedings. “The world is talking about this case. The influence of this trial has gone far out the walls of this courtroom.”
 
The other defendants, with the exception of the owner of the advertising agency, also made additional statements. During the statements of all the suspects, the presiding judge frequently interrupted the speakers, asking them  to be brief and avoid repeating points that they made in earlier statements.
 
The next session in the trial will be heard on November 13.
 
 
First  hearing  in Zaman trial
 
The Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court rejected all requests of 22 imprisoned defendants, mostly journalists, for release in a coup related case where most defendants risk life in prison on September 19.
 
There are a total of 31 defendants in the case. Those currently being held under arrest at Silivri Prison include former Zaman writers Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne and Ali Bulaç.
 
The case was adjourned until 8 December.
 
All 22 imprisoned journalists were at the hearing and four of the other defendants who are not under arrest attended the trial.
 
The suspects appeared in court for the first time and most of them have been in prison for more than a year.
 
The journalists are charged with "attempting a coup d'état" for which the prosecutor demands three consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
 
Additionally, the prosecutor demands up to 15 years in prison for all the suspects on charges of "membership in a terrorist organisation.’’
 
The court ruled to keep the arrest warrants in place for the 22 imprisoned journalists and rejected demands to lift judicial control measures for those who are not under arrest. It cited being a flight risk and the presence of strong doubt of crime among its reasons for the ruling.
 
 
 
Cihan Media Executive Board Member Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş who testified first in the trial said there was not a single piece of concrete evidence against him. “I would like to know what I stand accused of,” he said.
 
Former Zaman writer Ahmet Turan Alkan said: “We are people who write for bread money. I wasn’t an executive at Zaman, I only wrote. I would have fled if I was a member of a terror group. I stayed at home and waited for the police after the coup attempt.”
 
Former Ankara Bureau Chief of Zaman, Mustafa Ünal, said: “We are not  terrorists, we are journalists. The prosecutor should explain in which article did I cross the boundaries of free speech?”
 
Former Zaman columnist Ali Bulaç said, “I think the Fethullah Gülen movement was good when it was just a community. Over time, it turned evil and became FETÖ”, an acronym for “Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.”
 
Former Zaman journalist Şahin Alpay said he regretted having written for Zaman. He said he never thought that the network would have a murky side to it, until the 15 July 2016 coup attempt.
 
Mümtazer Türköne, another former Zaman columnist said: “My anti-coup attitude continued on 15 July. I stated that a coup is betrayal and that I am on the side of the legitimate government in my tweets.”
 
Those imprisoned in the case are  Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Ali Bulaç, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Belli, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, İsmail Küçük, Mehmet Özdemir, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Mümtazer Türköne, Onur Kutlu, Sedat Yetişkin, Şahin Alpay, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut and  Zafer Özsoy.
 
Those who were released pending trial or who were not arrested at any stage in the investigaiton are İhsan Duran Dağı, Ahmet İrem, Ali Hüseyinçelebi, Süleyman Sargın, Osman Nuri Arslan, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Akman and Orhan Kemal Cengiz.
 
For the full list of journalists in prison, click here.
 

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