An İstanbul high criminal court has ruled to continue the imprisonment of journalist Mehmet Gündem, who has been behind bars since November 2017, facing terror charges.
Gündem on Tuesday appeared in a court for the first time since his incarceration.
The journalist, who used to work as a columnist for the Milliyet daily, was detained on Nov. 1, 2017 along with 44 colleagues as part of an operation against the Journalists and Writers’ Foundation (GYV), which was closed down in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016 over alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.
The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding the failed coup attempt, although the movement strongly denies any involvement.
Gündem was subsequently arrested by a court on charges of membership in a terrorist organization as the Turkish government labels the Gülen movement as such.
In his first hearing at the İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court at the Çağlayan Courthouse, Gündem said he has been a journalist for 23 years and used to conduct weekly interviews at various media outlets.
“Every newspaper has an interviewer. I did this job at the Zaman daily [linked to Gülen] for seven years. So, I became a known figure to the public. In 2005, I conducted an interview with Fethullah Gülen [an Islamic scholar whose views inspired the movement] in the US upon a request from the Milliyet daily, for which I used to work. I served as an administrator at the Yeni Şafak daily,” Gündem said, adding that he became a member of the GYV in 2015 upon an invitation but resigned on Nov. 30, 2015 due to a dispute.
Regarding the claims in the indictment suggesting that he used the ByLock smart phone application, which Turkish authorities believe was the top communication tool among Gülen followers, Gündem said the mobile phone number cited in the indictment as using ByLock does not belong to him and he had been using the same mobile phone number since 1995.
The indictment against the journalist seeks a prison sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years on terror charges.
In his defense, the journalist said he lost his father while in jail but could not attend his funeral because he could not get the necessary permission to be able to do so.
“The past nine months were too long. [My imprisonment] has gone beyond being a measure and turned into a punishment. I request you to reconsider it,” the journalist told the court while asking for his acquittal.
However, the court ruled to keep him in prison on the grounds that some of the evidence in the case could not be collected.
The next hearing in Gündem’s trial will be held on Oct. 30.