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Court rules to continue pretrial detention of jailed Zaman journalists

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A high criminal court in İstanbul on Friday ruled for a continuation of the pretrial detention of 19 journalists, former employees of the Zaman newspaper, which was shut down by the government in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

According to the decision of the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court during a hearing at the Silivri Prison compound, the journalists’ request to be released on their own recognizance was rejected, and the trial was adjourned until July 5-6.

Former Zaman writers and editors Mümtaz’er Türköne, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Alaattin Güner, Cuma Kaya, Faruk Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen, Hüseyin Belli, Hüseyin Turan, İbrahim Karayeğen, İsmail Küçük, Murat Avcıoğlu, Mustafa Ünal, Onur Kutlu, Sedat Yetişkin, Şeref Yılmaz, Yüksel Durgut and Zafer Özsoy are being tried as part of the trial.

The journalists face charges of violating the constitution, membership in a terrorist organization, disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization and aiding a terrorist organization.

The Zaman daily, which was Turkey’s best-selling newspaper, was closed down along with dozens of other media outlets due to their links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government of masterminding the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Former Zaman employees Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mehmet Özdemir, Ahmet İrem, Ali Hüseyinçelebi, Süleyman Sargın, Osman Nuri Arslan, Osman Nuri Öztürk, Lalezer Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural and Orhan Kemal Cengiz are also named as suspects in the indictment, but they are being tried without being confined to pretrial detention. Professor İhsan Duran Dağı, who used to work as a columnist for Zaman, is cited as a fugitive in the indictment.

The journalists’ trial resumed on Thursday and continued into Friday.

According to Twitter posts of @P24DavaTakip, which follows the trials of journalists in Turkey, Zaman writers Bulaç, Alkan and Ural delivered defenses during Friday’s hearing.

The journalists denied all the charges and said they are standing trial merely because of their journalistic activities.

Articles and interviews written or made by these journalists while they were working for Zaman are presented as evidence of the charges directed at these journalists in the indictment.

Bulaç’s lawyer, Mehmet Ali Devecioğlu, said his client wrote thousands of articles while working at Zaman but that the prosecutor selected only eight of them as criminal evidence.

The lawyer also said Bulaç being a member of the now-closed, Gülen-linked Journalists’ and Writers’ Foundation (GYV) and his meeting with members of the foundation cannot be considered criminal evidence.

The lawyer asked for Bulaç’s acquittal of all charges.

Zaman writer Alkan, who also delivered his defense on Friday, said during the 23 months he has spent in jail, state organs have found no evidence about him other than his articles and that two years of his life have been stolen from him.

Alkan said the reason he is standing trial is his articles about the Dec.17-25, 2013 corruption probes in which then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s close circle was implicated.

“If you want to try me and seek an aggravated life sentence, then you should come with perfect, new, unquestionable evidence, not rumors found in the garbage of the Internet,” Alkan said, adding that he will not apologize to the government for “the trouble he caused” with his articles.

Zaman journalist Ural, who used to conduct interviews for the daily, said in her defense that she is being accused in the indictment of working for the Zaman daily.

“Zaman was not a banned institution. It was a very prestigious daily. I did not want to leave when trustees were appointed to it by the government [in March 2016]. Why should I have left? I am a single mother and needed the money,” said Ural.

Regarding the accusations that she had interviewed Turkish-Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose views inspired the Gülen movement, Ural said she did the interviews as a journalistic activity and listed off the names of many other Turkish and foreign journalists who interviewed Gülen as well.

Ural also said if she had happened to write for another newspaper, the content of her articles would not have changed because she has no interest in political fights.

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