Turkey jails journalists Gündem, Gönültaş and Kılıç

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Journalists Mehmet Gündem(L), Nuh Gönültaş (C) and Behram Kılıç

Journalists Mehmet Gündem, Nuh Gönültaş and Behram Kılıç were arrested by an İstanbul court on Tuesday on charges of links to the faith-based Gülen movement, the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) reported.

The three journalists were detained last Wednesday together with 45 people who have links to the now-defunct Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF/GYV) following the issuance of detention warrants for 112 people as part of the Turkish government’s massive post-coup witch-hunt targeting alleged members of the Gülen movement.

The court has released several detainees in the same investigation. The İstanbul-Anadolu Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had ordered warrants for executives of the JWF/GYV or people who have relations with the foundation.

Jailed journalist Mehmet Gündem had worked for several different media outlets including the pro-government Milliyet and Yeni Şafak dailies, the Zaman daily and the state-run TRT.

Journalist Behram Kılıç was a former Zaman daily sports correspondent, and Nuh Gönültaş was a columnist for now-closed Bugün daily.

Meanwhile, the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court on Tuesday rejected an appeals court order to retry former journalist and main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Enis Berberoğlu, ruling to uphold his 25-year jail sentence on espionage charges. The court said in its ruling that an İstanbul regional court order to retry the deputy violated legal principles, sending the file back to the appeals court.

The ruling noted that the appeals court had the full authority to review the case and said there was no need for it to carry out the retrial order. The reversal of the decision by the appeals court is “without due process of the law and runs contrary to the law,” so the high criminal court was not able to reach a verdict in the case.

An İstanbul regional court ordered a retrial for Berberoğlu on Oct. 9, reversing a previous ruling by a local court that ordered 25 years in jail in the case of National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks loaded with weapons and bound for Syria. Berberoğlu was sentenced to 25 years on June 14 for allegedly “leaking state secrets” in the MİT trucks case, in which he is accused of providing the Cumhuriyet daily with a video purporting to show the intelligence agency trucks transporting weapons to Syria.

Also on Tuesday, journalists and staff from the Sözcü daily pleaded not guilty at the first hearing of a trial in which they are being tried on terror charges. During the hearing at İstanbul’s 37th High Criminal Court reporter Gökmen Ulu, who is in pretrial detention during the trial, and co-defendants news editors Melda Olgun and Yonca Kaleli appeared before the judge.

They are accused of “managing an armed terror organization,” “engaging in armed terror organization propaganda” and “willingly abetting an armed terror organization without being included in its hierarchical structure.”

In his defense, Ulu said he “did not compromise on universal journalistic principles” in his reporting and described accusations that he is a member of the Gülen network as “gross slander.”

“It would be better if they tried me on charges of carrying out opposition journalism,” he added.

Commenting on his story reporting the location where Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was holidaying ahead of a July 2016 coup attempt, Ulu said everyone in the Mediterranean resort of Marmaris was aware of the fact that Erdoğan was vacationing there at the time.

“Presidential officials also knew that I was there. It was a news report about a vacation. The fact that the president was there can be monitored from the security cameras of the hotel,” Ulu said. Quoting a report prepared by Parliament’s Coup Investigation Commission and an indictment in one of the coup attempt trials, Ulu said it had been proven that pro-coup soldiers did not learn about Erdoğan’s location from journalists.

Separately, Sözcü owner Burak Akbay, whose whereabouts are not currently known, sent a four-page written defense to the court in which he described the accusations “as part of a plot.” “I have been targeted because I established a newspaper in line with the principles of Atatürk. Turkey’s justice system has become a tool in a plot, and the accusations directed against me are part of this plot,” Akbay stated.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 253 journalists and media workers were in jail as of Nov. 5, 2017, most in pre-trial detention without having been convicted. Of those in Turkish prisons, 228 are under arrest pending trial, while only 25 journalists have been convicted and are serving time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 133 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the coup attempt.

Turkey survived a military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement. Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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