In one the most important press freedom cases in Turkey, 29 journalists, most of whom have been in pre-trial detention for eight months, are set to finally appear for a hearing at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court on March 27, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported on Saturday.
An indictment of the 29 journalists, 25 of whom are in jail, was accepted on Feb. 13 by the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court, seeking up to 15 years’ imprisonment for the suspects, including former singer Atilla Taş.
The journalists were accused of membership of a hoax terror organization called “FETÖ,” a pejorative acronym that Turkey’s political Islamist government has used to smear the civic Gülen movement as a “terrorist organization.”
The indictment revealed that they are accused of membership in a terrorist organization due to their stories, critical tweets and retweets in the absence of evidence of any violent activity or the means to engage in violence.
Prepared by İstanbul prosecutor Murat Çağlak, the indictment was submitted to the court on Jan. 16. After analyzing the indictment, TurkishMinute.com determined that there is not a single incident of terrorist activity on the part of any of the journalists as they are overwhelmingly being charged for their critical messages on Twitter.
For instance, former Habertürk editor Abdullah Kılıç is being indicted for his critical columns in the now-shut-down Meydan daily as well as testimony from former Habertürk colleagues. Yasemin Çetin, who used to be a reporter for Habertürk, said in her testimony that rumors had circulated about Kılıç’s connection to the Gülen movement, which is accused in the indictment of being a terrorist organization under the name of “FETÖ,” a derogatory term coined by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to refer to the movement.
In addition to Kılıç’s columns, the indictment referred to some of his tweets, such as one dated July 4, 2013 on the military coup in Egypt.
Kılıç, like many other journalists and media outlets, is claimed to have links to the Gülen movement for sharing the messages of anonymous Twitter user @fuatavni, who tipped followers off about the unlawful actions of the government, then led by current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The indictment considers sharing messages from Fuat Avni to be evidence of membership in a terrorist organization.
Similarly, Rota Haber, a small independent news website shut down after a failed coup on July 15, is under indictment for sharing messages from Fuat Avni and publishing the op-eds of this anonymous user online.
The prosecutor referred to the testimony of former Rota Haber reporter Muhammet Çolak, who was uneasy with the news site’s coverage of corruption and said that when he asked his editor-in-chief, the now-arrested Ünal Tanık, whether he was connected to the Gülen movement, Tanık told him that they were just a critical website.
Another witness and former Rota Haber employee, Şevket Taner Şahin, said the website published interviews with famous soccer player Hakan Şükür and former singer Taş, who are considered to be connected to the Gülen movement. The prosecutor included such testimony as evidence of membership in a terrorist organization as well.
Taş, another person named in the indictment, is also accused because of his critical tweets and columns in the Meydan daily. Taş was a popular figure on Twitter and for a while wrote columns for the critical newspaper.
Veteran journalist Ali Akkuş, who worked for the Zaman daily for years, is also being indicted, with even his retweets considered to be evidence of terrorist activity.
Akkuş was also accused in the indictment of sharing the column of jailed author Ahmet Altan on June 15, 2016.
Raising the issue of Dec. 17/25, 2013 corruption cases that implicated the ruling AKP, President Erdoğan’s family and Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, who bribed AKP ministers and is currently in pretrial detention in the US for violating Iran sanctions, is also cited as a red flag and connection to terrorist activity in the long indictment.
According to the indictment, news coverage on Zarrab and the corruption case is considered proof of terrorist activity.
Under indictment are the following journalists, most of whom were employees of the Zaman media group, which was considered the flagship media organization of the Gülen movement:
Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bülent Ceyhan, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Davut Aydın, Emre Soncan, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammed Sait Kuloğlu, Muhterem Tanık, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Said Sefa, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin, Yetkin Yıldız.
The indictment fails to provide any evidence of violence or terrorist activity, yet claims that “FETÖ” used the media effectively for social engineering and perception management. The prosecutor argued that media organizations which serve to “legitimize terrorist activities” cannot enjoy freedom of expression.
The indictment even included a television commercial of the Zaman daily that was aired nine months, 10 days prior to the failed coup on July 15, 2016 as a signal for the military coup attempt by the Gülen movement. Prosecutor Murat Çağlak claimed that through TV ads in which a baby smiles after scenes of chaos the Gülen movement sent messages to its members.
According to the prosecutor, another TV commercial in which a soldier holds a copy of Zaman with a headline reading “There is one more possibility” was another precursor of preparations for the coup attempt.
In addition to stories, columns, TV commercials, Twitter messages and ownership of an account at Bank Asya are all deemed to be evidence of terrorist organization membership. The salaries of the employees of the Zaman media group used to be deposited in this bank, which was seized by the government prior to the coup attempt.
Another reporter, Bayram Kaya, is also charged with membership in a terrorist organization, with books he authored included in the indictment as evidence.
The indictment also mentioned that a dollar bill was found during the search of a reporter’s house, claimed to be evidence of links to the Gülen movement.
Gökçe Fırat, well known for his strong objections to the Gülen movement and his ultranationalist secular stance, is also named in the indictment due to his criticism of President Erdoğan. Taş and jailed columnist Murat Aksoy are also known for their affiliation with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Most of the journalists were detained and subsequently arrested in the aftermath of failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The hearings at the court start on Monday and are expected to continue for five consecutive days.
Turkey has been called the worst jailer of journalists in the world.