Ankara court gives 4 aggravated life sentences to Gülen movement’s ‘brain team’

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Hidayet Karaca

The Ankara 4th High Criminal Court has handed down aggravated life sentences to four defendants convicted of attempting to violate the constitutional order.

The case was opened before a 2016 coup attempt in Turkey against 75 people who were accused of being the “brain team” of the Gülen movement.

Among the four, Hidayet Karaca, who was former chief executive of Samanyolu Media Group, had been detained in December 2014 along with Ekrem Dumanlı, editor-in-chief of the Zaman newspaper, both of them affiliated with the Gülen movement.

“Yes I worked for Samanyolu Media Group. These companies were not established for crime. I never witnessed the commission of crimes in these companies. I just did broadcasting. Never participated in a violent act. Was never armed,” Karaca said in his final statement.

During the trial Karaca spoke of his close relationship with ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) executives, including President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in the early years of AKP rule.

Following a police investigation for bribery and corruption into Erdoğan’s close circle in 2013, Erdoğan accused the movement of interfering in politics and being a “parallel state” by using bureaucratic means.

Since then Turkish prosecutors have been conducting investigations into Gülen-affiliated organizations and figures.

After a coup attempt in July 2016, Erdoğan and his party also accused the Gülen movement of orchestrating the coup, although Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied the allegations.

İlhan İşbilen, a former parliamentary member from the AKP, was also among the defendants given aggravated life sentences, saying he could not accept Gülen as the leader of a terrorist organization.

İşbilen resigned from the AKP in February 2014 and became a vocal critic of the party. He was put in pretrial detention in December 2015.

Alaeddin Kaya, former owner of the Zaman and Star newspapers, was also sentenced to aggravated life. He previously demanded his release, saying he had been disillusioned by the movement.

President Erdoğan, after the investigation in 2013, famously said he had been disillusioned by Gülen and his followers.

Kaya has been in jail since September 2016.

Another aggravated life sentence has been given to Kazim Avcı, a cousin of Fethullah Gülen.

Avcı was depicted in the pro-government media as an important figure in the movement; however, his role was never explicitly mentioned. Avcı, 63, reportedly has faced numerous medical problems since he is an amputee. He was put in pretrial detention in December 2015 and in the first five months of his incarceration had lost 22 kilos.

Karaca, İşbilen, Kaya and Avcı were also charged with “money laundering” and “aggravated fraud.”

Three more defendants, Ali Çelik, Abdulkadir Aksoy and Dilaver Azim, were sentenced to 10 years, six months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.”

Sixty-seven out the 75 defendants live outside of Turkey, and one other, Cemal Uşşak, passed away from cancer in 2016.

The final hearings in the trial started on Monday, with six defendants in court while Karaca attended through video conference.

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