ECtHR rules Turkey violated rights of writer jailed over Gülen links

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has faulted Turkey over the imprisonment of journalist and writer Ali Bulaç, who was jailed for close to two years over alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016.

Bulaç, who was a writer for the now-closed Zaman daily, was arrested in the aftermath of the coup attempt on July 15, 2016 as part of a crackdown on journalists critical of the government and journalists who used to work at Gülen-affiliated media organizations. 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.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled in a decision made public on Tuesday that Turkey violated Bulaç’s freedom of expression and right to security and ordered Turkey to pay 12,240 euros in damages. The court’s ruling is expected to set a precedent for thousands of people who were jailed on terrorism charges due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Bulaç was behind bars from July 30, 2016 to May 11, 2018. He was given a prison sentence of eight years, nine months at the end of his trial. Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled in December 2020 that the prison sentence given to Bulaç was flawed and his retrial began in April.

In May 2019 Turkey’s Constitutional Court also ruled that a rights violation occurred during the prosecution of Bulaç.

Bulaç, who was a former advisor to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan when Erdoğan was the mayor of İstanbul between 1995 and 1998, attracted the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) anger when he said in a newspaper interview in 2014 that the AKP was the biggest disaster experienced by the people of Turkey since the Battle of the Gallipoli, a World War I military campaign fought by the Ottoman Empire against British and French forces. The battle formed the basis for the Turkish War of Independence and the declaration of the Republic of Turkey eight years later.

Turkish President Erdoğan has been targeting followers of the Gülen movement, inspired by US-based Turkish Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, since the corruption investigations of December 17-25, 2013, which implicated then-Prime Minister Erdoğan, his family members, and his inner circle.

Dismissing the investigations as a Gülenist coup and conspiracy against his government, Erdoğan designated the movement as a terrorist organization and began to target its members. He intensified the crackdown on the movement following the abortive putsch  that he accused Gülen of masterminding. Gülen and the movement strongly deny involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

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