10 former writers and employees of the newspaper Zaman, shuttered by Decree Law No. 668 on July 27, 2016, were taken into custody following the July 15, 2016 coup attempt. Before it was closed down, a special administrator had been appointed to the newspaper on March 4, 2016, on the orders of Istanbul Sixth Criminal Court of Peace. An operation had been launched with arrest warrants for 47 newspaper employees.
Within two weeks of the coup attempt, Zaman writers Ahmet Turan Alkan, Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne, Şahin Alpay, İhsan Duran Dağı, Nuriye Ural and Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu, night editor İbrahim Karayeğen, and Ankara Representative Mustafa Ünal were taken to police stations on different dates for their statements to be taken.
Writers Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mustafa Ünal, Nuriye Ural and Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu were arrested on July 30, 2016. Mümtazer Türköne and Mehmet Özdemir were arrested on August 4, and İbrahim Karayeğen on July 25, and then sent to prison. İhsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz were released without being referred to the court after interrogation by police and prosecutors.
There were separate indictments for the lawsuits filed against the individuals detained in this operation and subsequent operations, some of which were members of Zaman newspaper’s administrative staff. 11 journalists figured as defendants in the “Zaman Newspaper Main Case”, nine journalists in “FETÖ Media Main Case” and 27 journalists in the “FETÖ Media Organization” case. Istanbul Thirteenth High Criminal Court accepted the indictment against 11 journalists standing trial in the “Zaman Newspaper Main Case” on April 24, 2017. The indictment had 30 defendants, 11 of which were journalists.
The indictment described the newspaper Zaman, in which these journalists were employees or writers, as “FETÖ’s flagship in the media”. The writers were charged for the articles in their columns or even their titles. However, it was stated in the indictment that the passages in question were not “cherry-picked”. It was also indicated that, “the articles went far beyond simply opposing or criticizing the government”. The indictment read as follows:
“Even in those articles that do not seem to include criminal elements, the writers cross the boundaries of the freedom of press to use expressions that violate the rights of state authorities and institutions, and thereby serve the purposes of the organization… ”
The indictment requested that each journalist be sentenced to three counts of aggravated life sentence, plus an additional 7.5 to 15 years in prison, on allegations of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Parliament, and government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent their functioning” (Turkish Penal Code, Articles 309/1, 311/1 and 312/1), and “membership of an armed organization” (Article 314/2).
The court did not accept all the charges directed against the journalists in the indictment. The journalists were absolved of the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, Parliament, and government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent their functioning”, but were sentenced for “membership of an armed organization”.
The trial began with a hearing on September 18, 2017. Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu and Nuriye Ural, who had been imprisoned pending trial for 2 and a half months, and Mehmet Özdemir, imprisoned pending trial for 1 year 9 months, were acquitted.
Ali Bulaç was sentenced to 21 months in prison and Ahmet Turan Alkan to 8 years and 9 months, having spent two years in prison. İbrahim Karayeğen was released after the announcement of a 9-year prison sentence. İhsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz, who had not been detained, were acquitted at the end of the trial.
Having spent 20 months in detention, Şahin Alpay was released only after the Constitutional Court ordered his release two times, ruling that his rights were violated. In an unprecedented event in Turkish legal history, the first-instance court resisted twice the Constitutional Court’s order for his release.
The Istanbul Regional Court’s Second Criminal Chamber upheld the decision of the first-instance court. The file was referred to the Court of Cassation for review.
Court of Cassation Process
Mümtazer Türköne has been in prison since August 4, 2016 and Mustafa Ünal since July 30, 2016.
Court of Cassation Chief of Public Prosecutor’s Office presented its letter of notification to the Court of Cassation 16th Criminal Chambers in the case where 11 former columnists and editors of Zaman Daily were being tried. Chief of Public Prosecutors Office’s letter of notification at December 23rd, 2019 requested the sentences of Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Mustafa Ünal and night-time news editor İbrahim Karayeğen for “terrorist organisation membership” to be upheld.
Chief Public Prosecutors Office also requested that the decision against Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç for “terrorist organisation membership” to be reversed and Alpay and Bulaç to be tried for “knowingly and willingly aiding FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organisation without partaking in the hierarchical structure of the organisation”.
The letter requested the acquittal decision for columnists Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural, İhsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz to be upheld as well whereas it requested the release decision for editor Mehmet Özdemir to be reversed.