Six prominent former Turkish journalists and editors from Zaman newspaper, a media outlet recently taken over by the government, were given jail terms of between eight-and-a-half and ten-and-a-half years at a recent trial. According to Amnesty International’s Campaign Director for Europe Fotis Filippou, the case is a continuation of a deterioration of press freedom in the increasingly autocratic nation led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Filippou:
“Yet again, journalists have received criminal convictions under anti-terror laws with nothing more than their critical writings presented as evidence. These absurd convictions have sent a further shock through Turkey’s already devastated media landscape. They must be overturned immediately.
Whilst all were acquitted of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order’ and five were acquitted of all charges, the conviction of six journalists on terrorism charges without a shred of credible evidence against them shows that the systematic attempt to silence the media in Turkey continues.”
Zaman newspaper was accused of links to the Fethullah Gülen movement, a group the Turkish government accuses of backing an attempted coup in 2016. Fethullah Gülen left Turkey in 1998 and lives in effective exile in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, despite long running efforts by Turkey to have the United States send him back home for trial. The US has so far refused to allow his extradition even granting him a green card.
After the trial, the defence lawyer in the case, Ergin Cinmen, said in statements to independent online news site Ahval, “it was one of the cases we are seeing in Turkey where there is no evidence. The case file contains nothing other than their writings. After every coup (and coup attempt) in Turkey, the government behaves in the same way towards the opposition. We have seen it in every prior period, and we are seeing it now, too. But there were never trials opened against people based solely on their opinions.”
According information posted by Amnesty International – USA:
- İhsan Dağı, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural Akman, Mehmet Özdemir and Orhan Kemal Cengiz were acquitted.
- Ahmet Turan Alkan, Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç were sentenced to eight years and nine months.
- Mustafa Ünal and Mümtazer Türköne were sentence to 10 years and six months.
- İbrahim Karayeğen was sentenced to nine years.
- The “Zaman trial” opened on 18 September 2017, 14 months after many of its defendants were imprisoned pending their prosecution. The court ruling came at the end of the fifth hearing in the case. Four of the 11 defendants have spent almost two years in pre-trial detention.
- On 6 June, Amnesty International marked the one year anniversary of the arrest of the Honorary Chair of Amnesty Turkey Taner Kılıç.