Court rules to keep Zaman journalist Ünal in jail

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Journalist Ali Ünal

A high criminal court in the western Turkish province of Uşak has refused to release Ali Ünal, a theologian and former columnist for the now-closed Zaman daily, who has been behind bars for 23 months.

The fourth hearing in Ünal’s trial was held at the Uşak 2nd High Criminal Court on Wednesday.

Ünal, who is incarcerated in a high-security prison in İzmir province, is accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” “establishing and managing an armed terrorist organization” and “being a membership in a terrorist organization” due to his links to the Gülen movement.

The Gülen movement is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016, although the movement strongly denies any involvement.

Ünal faces two consecutive life sentences in addition to a 29-and-a-half-year jail sentence.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Nurettin Veren, an informant who had turned against Turkish-Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, whose views inspired the Gülen movement, was heard as a witness via the IT Voice and Image System (SEGBİS).

In his testimony, Veren accused Ünal of acting on orders from Gülen, being among the brain team of the Gülen movement and serving as a Gülen advisor.

Ünal’s lawyer Ayşe Sueda Ünal objected to Veren’s testifying to the court via SEGBİS, saying that witnesses should be present in court and that defense lawyers should have the right to ask them questions.

In his defense Ünal denied Veren’s claims and accused him of lying.

Ünal said he had merely translated four of Gülen’s books and was not his advisor and did not have any secret meetings with Gülen as claimed by Veren.

“I am standing trial because of my ideas. I just wrote columns,” said Ünal.

The court ruled for the continuation of Ünal’s pre-trial detention.

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 5.

Ünal was arrested in August 2016, and the first hearing of Ünal’s trial was held on Jan. 4 during which Ünal delivered his defense and responded to accusations in the indictment relating to 17 of his columns in the Zaman daily. The journalist denied the charges and asked for his release. The court ruled for the continuation of the imprisonment of the journalist and asked for an examination of his mobile phone.

The Zaman daily, which was affiliated with the Gülen movement, was first unlawfully seized by the Turkish government on March 4, 2016 and then closed down by government decree in the aftermath of the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Dozens of Zaman journalists have been jailed on coup charges since the coup attempt.

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