Ali Bulaç, a columnist for the Zaman newspaper, was detained on July 27, 2016 in Istanbul. The newspaper was taken over by a trustee before the 15th of July, 2016 coup attempt and was later shut down with a decree law passed under the state of emergency.
Istanbul’s 4th Criminal Court of Peace ruled for Bulaç to be arrested on July 30, 2016, and sent him to Silivri Prison.
On April 10, 2018, İsmet Bozkurt, a prosecutor with the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau in the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, issued an indictment against the Zaman newspaper’s contributors and managers, which included Ali Bulaç. The 64-page indictment was issued to the court on April 11, 2017, and was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on April 24, 2017.
The indictment recommended 7.5 years to 15 years of jail time for Bulaç on chargeof “being a member of an armed organization (314/2).
The first hearing of the trial was held on Sept. 18-19, 2017, by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court in a courthouse established in Silivri Prison.
At fourth hearing of the trial, which was held on May 10-11, 2018, Bulaç was released after 650 days of imprisonment.
The sixth hearing of the trial at the First Instance Court was completed on July 6, 2018. Bulaç was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months of prison for “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”
The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence about Ali Bulaç. Yet, just a short while before the decision, the Constitutional Court had decided that Ali Bulaç’s rights were violated. His file is in the Court of Cassation.
On July 27, 2016, Ali Bulaç was detained in an operation against the former contributors and managers of the Zaman newspaper. He surrendered himself upon learning of his arrest warrant. Following the prosecutor’s request for arrest, Bulaç was sent to the Istanbul 4th Criminal Court of Peace on Duty. In his defense, he made the following statements:
“I’m just a columnist for the Zaman newspaper. I have never had any doubt about whether Fethullah Gülen’s movement is an organization. Until the 15th of July, I did not know this structure was in so organized. I couldn’t even have guessed. I’ve been writing for 50 years. Coups and armament are my red lines. God damn those who orchestrated and supported the coup. I’m 66 years old. I demand to be released. I refuse all the charges.”
The following statements were used in the preliminary reasoning for arrest:
“He wrote praising articles in Zaman; he wrote articles criticizing the investigations of the security and judicial authorities against this structure, and he continued to write for the newspaper even after the editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı was prosecuted for being member of an armed terrorist organization; especially after the process known as 17-25 December corruption investigations, he continued to insist on praising this structure and continued to carry out propaganda activities for the purposes of the organization. (…) Ekrem Dumanlı, the former editor-in-chief of this newspaper, was subject to the provisions of judicial control, but he has fled abroad for the same offense, therefore in this [Bulaç’s] case the judicial control provision would be inadequate, and he should be arrested.”
İsmet Bozkurt, a prosecutor for the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, completed the indictment against the Zaman newspaper contributors and managers, including Ali Bulaç, on April 10, 2018. The 64-page indictment was sent to a court on April 11, 2017, and was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on April 24, 2017.
The indictment recommended 7.5 years to 15 years of jail time for Bulaç for charges of “attempting to abolish, replace or prevent the implementation of the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey” (TPC 309).
The indictment against Ali Bulaç and other Zaman newspaper contributors and managers was completed on April 10, 2017, by İsmet Bozkurt, a prosecutor for the Terror and Organized Crime Bureau of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
As in most of the major judicial proceedings against FETÖ, the first 20 pages of the indictment describe FETÖ’s foundation, purpose, method, strategy, hierarchical structure, intelligence network, financial structure, and income sources. The media structure of FETÖ and the impact of the media on investigations is also addressed in this section.
In the section called “Disclosure of the crimes attributed to the suspects,” the prosecutor tried to prove the alleged link between the media institutions and FETÖ, rather than the link between the suspects and FETÖ.
In addition, the names of the former editors-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı and Abdülhamit Bilici, Samanyolu TV director Hidayet Karaca, the Taraf newspaper’s columnists Emre Uslu and Mehmet Baransu, and the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s former editor-in-chief Can Dündar were mentioned in the indictment, though they weren’t suspects in the file.
In the indictment, the accusations against the defendants were made after the first 20 pages. The indictment claimed Ali Bulaç established the media power of FETÖ and fulfilled his role in line with the general purpose of the organization, the organizational strategy, and hierarchy to eliminate the constitutional order, the Assembly and the government.
Bulaç was charged for articles he published in the Zaman newspaper after the bribery and corruption investigation of 17-25 December -a corruption investigation in which some of the AKP government’s cabinet members and their children’s names were involved.
Bulaç was charged for “trying to create a perception in line with the FETÖ/PDY’s goals through his articles.” These articles include “Kolektif ceza” (“Collective punishment” dated Dec. 21, 2013), “Başbakanın açıklamaları-izlenimler” (“The statements of Prime Minister-impressions” dated Jan. 5, 2014), “Ağlatmayalım” (“Don’t make them cry” dated March 1, 2014), “Muhafazakar zihnin trajedisi” (“The tragedy of a conservative mind” dated March 10, 2014), “Kalıcı hasar” (“The permanent damage” dated March 13, 2014) and “Tumen’in suçu” (“Tumen’s crime” dated March 29, 2014).
One of Bulaç’s articles, which was not mentioned in the indictment, was evaluated as “suggesting military coup to the organization base and to the society.” This article contained the following statements:
“If an undesirable war occurs, like in Dardanelles, it is necessary to make the best of the sword. When confronted with such a thing, if the believer survives, he becomes a veteran, he earns a merit to Paradise; and if he becomes a martyr, I hope he goes to heaven directly. On the other hand, if the enemy is taken under guardianship, and if they obtain such receivables from the believers they encounter, the gates of Heaven will be spaced for them as well … Don’t the oppressed have a right to use a sword?”
The indictment stated the parts taken from the articles that were alleged to have committed a crime were not “taken out of context” and they could not be considered as “figures of speech or metaphors.” It noted the articles were not solely criticism against the government.
It also said that “even in the absence of visible elements of crime, expressions of prejudice were used in the form to violate the rights of state authorities and institutions, exceeding the limits of freedom of press and freedom of expression, or articles written as a preparation [of the coup].”
It is claimed that, Ali Bulaç “served the organization’s purpose [to] threaten national security, and used expressions that may create a social unrest and disrupt the social peace” and “did not hesitate to call for a military coup” with these writings.
It is asserted, in this way, that Bulaç “was forming the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization’s media force” and “fulfilled his role in line with the general purpose of the organization, the organizational strategy, and hierarchy to eliminate the constitutional order, the Assembly and the government.”
The indictment also presented Bulaç’s membership to the Journalist and Writers’ Foundation as an element of a crime.
In the indictment, the prosecutor asked for three times aggravated life sentence for Bulaç on the charge of “attempting to abolish, replace or prevent the implementation of the constitutional order of the Republic of Turkey,” and 7.5 years to 15 years of jail time with the charge of “being a member of an armed organization” (314/2).
The first hearing of trial against Ali Bulaç along with the Zaman newspaper’s other contributors was held on Sept. 18-19, 2017, by Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court in a courthouse established in Silivri Prison.
By the first hearing, Bulaç had been in prison for more than a year. In his first defense, he said:
“I curse the slaughtering-coup-plotting organization. I think the Gülen movement was good when it was a congregation. They were doing good. It turned out to be bad, and became FETÖ. Those who praised him, and those who supported him, supported the Hizmet movement, not the criminal organization. The president had reproached as follows: ‘We did anything you asked.’ That’s correct. They could get whatever they wanted because they wanted good things. But while taking giant steps on the way of Allah, the community was subjected to power poisoning.”
“No matter what happened, I couldn’t think they would’ve attempted a coup. I’ve never heard anything from anyone that they were going to attempt a coup.”
“On the outside, the fancy congregation vase fell to the ground with a blow on 15th of July, and it was shattered. If I were a member of the organization, shouldn’t I be aware of it months before, like all the others? Did the organization treat me like a handy fool?”
“This demand of the prosecutor, who wants to punish a writer with the same punishment as the bombers of civilian settlements and the same as the ones who opened fire on the crowds, will surely go down in history, and if not, then the mahkeme-i Kübra [the holy court held after doomsday according to Islamic belief] will ask this writer, who lives his life on the ideal of peace, justice, freedom and coexistence of Islam, ’for which crime did you receive this punishment’.”
“I’ve been in prison for 14 months. I am 66 years old. Four of my heart veins have been replaced. I have a stent. I have been struggling with five different illnesses relating to a heart condition, diabetes, blood pressure, goiter and prostate. For the past 14 months I have never seen any prosecutor or been taken to any court.”
“I have no defense against the indictment. I am a writer and the prosecutor just mentioned six of my articles but did not specify which sentences constitute a crime.”
“I have never taken any part in an armed-bombing action. Where did I throw Molotov cocktails? Who went to the training camp? When did I get involved in an armed conflict? When and where did I attack any of the security forces? Did I use a fake ID? Did I join an illegal meeting?”
“If the highest posts of the state didn’t know there was an organization, how can I know about it? For my whole life, I was against military domination and coups. If politicians have a right to be ‘wrong or deceived,’ there is an understanding of the negligence on the part of the officials in the responsible positions. Why can’t I have the right not to recognize the dark side of this treacherous organization?”
The second hearing of the trial was held on Dec. 8, 2017, by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. In this hearing, Bulaç made the following defense:
“I cannot be a member of any organization. It was expressed by Nurettin Veren that Gülen who called me Sabetayist said, ‘This, Ali Bulaç or Bulamaç?” [a quibble with his surname, ‘bulamaç’ means ‘slurry’] Could someone who calls me with names make me a member of the organization? In that newspaper, I was only writing what I believed.”
“As far as I understand, I am accused of writing for the Zaman newspaper. There is no other evidence. I have been in jail for 17 months. Today is the 499th day. God willing, tomorrow will be 500 days. I have never fled the judiciary, and I have no intention of running away. I demand my release and my acquittal at the end of the trial.”
Regarding his articles, which were represented as evidence against him, Bulaç said: “Six of my articles were cited only by their titles. There is no element of crime. (…) Three months before the coup, I wrote ‘calling for coup is ignoble’, ‘If there is corruption, it must be investigated and punished.’ Throughout my career I thought Muslim writers should live a life away from the state.”
The third hearing of the trial was held on April 5, 2018. At the hearing, the prosecutor explained his opinion regarding the accusations. The prosecutor recommended Bulaç be sentenced to an aggravated life sentence under the charge of “attempting to abolish the constitutional order” and 15 years of prison for “being a member of an armed organization.”
The fourth hearing of the trial was held on May 10-11, 2018. Bulaç requested additional time to prepare his defense against the accusations, citing he could not access certain documents and some of the articles on the CDs containing additional evidence folders concerning the prosecutor’s opinions. He asked to be released due to the lack of access to health services in prison.
He was released on the fourth hearing. The release verdict’s preparatory statement, which was given on the 650th day of Bulaç’s imprisonment, stated the action was a “consideration of the duration of his detention and the collection of evidence.” In the decision passed by a majority of votes, the court ruled to apply judicial control on Bulaç.
After his release, in front of the gates of Silivri Prison, Bulaç said that “I am so happy, so pleased. I have been in prison for 22 months. The court believed our innocence. I have no complaints. I hope it will not be repeated. Now, we need to unite.”
On the fifth hearing, which was held on June 7-8, 2018, Bulaç made his last defense against the prosecutor’s opinion of his accusations. In his 90-page final defense, Bulaç said:
“After 22 months of intense imprisonment on the grounds of ‘collecting evidence,’ the prosecutor’s only evidence is my articles, my journalistic and intellectual activities. If a person is wanted for imprisonment for aggravated life sentence for his articles, what kind of penalty will they ask for the coup plotters or for those who opened fire against people? Is there any heavier penalty than aggravated life sentence? It should be restated that the equivalent of today’s aggravated life sentence is a death sentence. I, and my friends, were supposed to be charged with a death sentence? I am asking those with a conscience. All of these politicians, authorities, the Chief of General Staff, the undersecretary of MIT didn’t know about the coup, so how could I know about it and write articles as preparation?”
“Yes, it was a terror organization. But its public face was legal and it’s dark face was illegal. I neither know anything about the coup, nor am a member of any terror organization. I refuse these two charges. How can numerous politicians have a right to be ‘wrong’ but I can’t?”
“My position as a columnist for the Zaman newspaper is not a crime. The newspaper was a legal body until it was shut down. The fact that the editor-in-chief fled was not my fault. Ekrem Dumanlı was dismissed, Abdülhamit Bilici was appointed instead and the press prosecutor approved it. I didn’t work for a place without an editor-in-chief, an unknown address, an underground publication.”
“I was only a columnist for Zaman newspaper. I didn’t have administrative duties. I didn’t have an office or a desk in the building. I didn’t determine the editorial policy, my name wasn’t mentioned in the masthead. Even though these tasks do not constitute a criminal act.”
“If there would be an element of crime in my articles, the press prosecutor would have already started an investigation about this. According to Press Law’s article 26, an investigation should be opened within four months after the publication. But my articles date back to four years.”
“I wanted to be prosecuted for my own beliefs. I didn’t write in the name or with the direction of FETÖ. I refuse the accusation.”
“Erdoğan and I have known each other for 38 years. Even though I am in prison, under his rule, we have a friendship. He offered me a membership to parliament (…) I was his adviser for four years.”
“My articles are not the ones which are judged here, it’s me.”
“The organization wouldn’t make me a member because, despite the fact I wrote for the newspaper, I have different roots.”
“I couldn’t have thought Gülen’s group would have done something on the level of the 15th of July. I didn’t assume, sense or question it. If I could have, I wouldn’t have stayed in their media for even an hour.”
“Unfortunately, they fooled me like everyone else. The 15th of July was a fatality. I curse everyone who took part in it.”
“I regret accepting the membership from the Journalists and Writers Foundation - even for a very short period of time - and writing for the Zaman newspaper.”
“The 15th of July is a trauma for me, a frustration, a disappointment. My biggest wish and prayer is that it does not repeat.”
“Taking all these into consideration, I demand from you my acquittal.”
“The acquittal or punishment verdict you will share won’t be limited to only myself or the columnists and journalists who are being tried with me. It will affect all the journalists and columnists who are pro-government and dissident. If we are sentenced, the verdict will open the door to future prosecutions for those who write comfortably today.”
Ali Bulaç said one of the articles in the 12,000 pages of additional documents that were shown as evidence of an alleged crime, didn’t belong to him. Bulaç said: “This article is not mine. I didn’t write that. That’s not my style. It’s not mine, it’s Ali Ünal’s. However, the grave error was that it was the ground for my arrest. One of the reasons for my 22-month imprisonment was this allegation, this slander.” Bulaç said additional evidence, which was shown as the basis for his arrest, was also false.
On the sixth hearing, the court reached a verdict on July 6, 2018.
When the court asked for his final words, Ali Bulaç said:
“I repeat my defense. I was associated with Gülen group only as a journalist. I didn’t see their dark faces. I regret that. I count my 22 months of imprisonment as the bail for my 67 years of life.”
Ali Bulaç was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months imprisonment for being a member of an armed terrorist organization. The court decided to deduct the amount of time he spent in prison from his sentence.
Ali Bulaç, who was released on May 12, 2018, wrote an article titled “Uzun Bir Aradan Sonra” (“After a Long Time”) on his personal website on Aug. 14, 2018. In it, he said:
“(…) After a long time (26 months) it is not easy to write again. For some, writing is an ordinary part of life. For me, it is an ‘expression!’ Allah, the creator of humankind, also created ‘expression.’ Both verbally and in written form, or as words.”
The Constitutional Court
Bulaç appealed to the Constitution Court on March 9, 2017. On May 3, 2019, the Court decided that his rights were violated.
In the verdict of the court, it was mentioned that “In principle, expressing one’s thoughts should not be the unique base of the charges about being aligned to terrorism.” The court added that so as to detect an expression as aligned to terrorism and as an element of crime, “it should be calling for, praising or legitimazing violence and uprising.”
The Constitutional Court had used the same reasonings about Şahin Alpay who is one of the old columnists of Zaman Newspaper in the scope of the same trial.
In the decision of the Constitutional Court, it was stated that Bulaç’s columns did not include any call for violence or uprising or hate speech, nor were thet praising or legitimazing terrorism.
The Court ruled that 25.000 Turkish Liras should be paid to Bulaç for compensation.
The Court send the decision about the violation of Bulaç’s rights to the İstanbul Jurisdiction Court’s 2nd Penal Chamber.
The İstanbul Jurisdiction Court’s 2nd Penal Chamber approved the 8 years 9 months imprisonment sentence about Ali Bulaç on June 25, 2019. Accordingly, The Court of Appeal did not detect any illegitimacy for the punishment of Bulaç on charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
The verdict was referred to the Court of Cassation.
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Indictment)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Verdict)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (The Constitutional Court's Judgement)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Defense on the Merits of the Case)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (The First Defense)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (The Court of Appeal's Judgement)