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Jailed journalist reveals injustices in his prosecution in letter to colleague

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Former economy editor Zafer Özcan, who was arrested last year on terror-related charges, revealed the injustices he faced during his prosecution in a letter he wrote from jail to photo editor Selahattin Sevi, the Kronos news website reported on Thursday.

Özcan was detained in the Akhisar district of western Manisa province in March 2019 and then arrested by a local court. Sentenced to seven years, six months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization,” the journalist was sent to Süleymanlı Prison.

The case of the journalist, who formerly worked for now-closed Zaman and Bugün dailies as well as the Aksiyon magazine, is currently under review by an appeals court.

“The local court has still not released me despite my 21-month detention. This is not a surprise for me, of course. Although I’m not naïve enough to expect justice in a politically motivated case, what I expected was for them to at least provide evidence based on correct information,” the journalist said.

Özcan added that the court said in its reasoned decision that his sentence was based on his membership in the Journalists and Writers Foundation (GYV), although he proved through his lawyers that he was in fact not a member of the organization.

The GYV has links to the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by the teachings of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, labeled as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government, which also accuses the group of orchestrating an abortive putsch in 2016.

Despite the strong denial of both Gülen and his followers, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has jailed 90,000 people over links to the movement as part of a massive purge launched under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Özcan also noted that one of the two witness statements said to be against him in the court decision was taken 29 years ago, when he was a high school student, and the other was in fact given in support of him, but used as if it were against him.

The journalist underlined that considering a book written by him and the media outlets he worked for as evidence against him violates his right to free speech as a member of the press.

At one time Turkey’s highest circulating newspaper before it was seized by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP in March 2016, Zaman was shut down by the government two months after it was taken over by state-appointed trustees for links to the Gülen movement, along with the Bugün daily and Aksiyon magazine.

“To be honest, my time has never been this productive. I’ve discovered the novelist in me. Right now, I’m working on my seventh novel behind bars. This situation is beyond my dreams,” Özcan further said in the letter, adding that he has also been reading books on economy, his field of specialization.

Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), which described the country as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists,” with more than 100 journalists currently behind bars.

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