Mustafa Ünal was the Ankara correspondent for the Zaman Newspaper. After the appointment of a trustee to the Zaman, he joined the Yarına Bakış Newspaper. He remained in pretrial detention as part of the case where other writers and executives of the Zaman Newspaper were put on trial. He faced a sentence of up to three times aggravated life imprisonment and also an additional 7.5 to 15 years of imprisonment for “being a member of an armed “organization” (314/2). He was sentenced to ten years and six months of imprisonment on charges of “being a member of a terrorist organization.” He has been in jail since July 30, 2016. The Court of Appeal upheld the sentence. His file is in the Court of Cassation.
As a part of the operation against the writers and executives of the Zaman Newspaper, he was detained in Ankara on July 27, 2016. Since his house was not searched, his computer and mobile phone were not confiscated.
On July 30, 2016, he was taken to İstanbul and referred to the court immediately after his interrogation at the police station, skipping the interrogation at the prosecutor’s office with a request for provisional arrest. In the reasoning of his pretrial detention, Ünal was accused of writing articles praising FETÖ and continuing to write for the newspaper despite the legal cases against Ekrem Dumanlı, the executive of the newspaper. Interestingly, the decision for his pretrial detention was because Dumanlı fled abroad.
When the indictment was prepared and his trial began, Ünal had been in prison for about nine months. The indictment against Ünal was completed on April 10, 2018 by İsmet Bozkurt, the prosecutor of the Bureau of Terror and Organized Crimes in İstanbul. The 64-page indictment was sent on April 11, 2017 and was accepted by the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court on April 24, 2017. He remained jailed for 420 days until the completion of the indictment, the opening of the case and the first hearing, in which he would stand before a judge for the first time.
The indictment against Ünal started with the organization’s purpose, structure, sources of income, and armed power, as in many of the indictments in FETÖ trials. This chapter went on for about twenty pages. The indictment specified that the media organizations, where journalists were working, had links with FETÖ. The indictment included the names of other journalists who were not suspects. The charges against the accused began after this chapter.
Ünal was alleged to be the media force of FETÖ. He was accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the parliament and the government” for the organization.
Ünal was charged with “trying to create a perception in line with the FETÖ/PDY ambitions” through the nine articles listed as evidence in the indictment. All the articles he was accused of were written after the corruption and bribery operation of 17-25 December. In 2013, there was a major corruption and bribery operation, involving the names of the ministers of the AKP or their children.
The indictment stated that Ünal did not only oppose in his article. The indictment stated, “there are no visible elements of crime.” However, it was stated that the articles exceeded the limits of the freedom of the press and expression. Ünal’s articles allegedly violated the rights of state authorities and institutions. The articles were capable of disrupting the peace of society, social peace and order. The prosecutor claimed Ünal did not hesitate to call for a military coup.
The prosecutor demanded a sentence of up to three times aggravated life imprisonment as well as 7.5 to 15 years in prison. Ünal faced charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Parliament and the government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent them from doing their duties” and “being a member of an armed organization” (314/2).
The first hearing was on Sept. 18-19, 2017 at İstanbul 13th Criminal Court. The court was inside the Silivri Prison. Ünal was in a 420 day-long pretrial detention when he stood before a judge for the first time. He said the following on his first defense:
“This is not the AK Party’s dream for Turkey. ‘Opinion’ would be free. ‘Prohibitions’ would be prohibited. The dream became an illusion, the reality became Silivri [prison]”
The second hearing was on Dec. 8, 2017. The third hearing was on April 5, 2018. On the 610th day of his detention, Mustafa Ünal made the following defense: “I am deeply heartbroken with the AK Party, which I supported since its foundation. This shame belongs to the AK Party.”
The third hearing was on April 5, 2018. The prosecutor disclosed his legal opinion on the merits of the case. The prosecutor sought an aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” The prosecutor also requested 15 years of imprisonment against Ünal for “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.”
As evidence against Ünal, eight Twitter posts were added to the review on the merits. Ünal’s post, “For sure, God commands justice. Good Friday,” on Twitter, which he made every Friday, was used as evidence. These phrases were a verse from the Holy Quran. The fourth hearing of the case was on May 10-11, 2018. In this hearing, Mustafa Ünal made his final defense against the merits disclosed during the previous hearing. In his approximately 50-page-long defense, Unal said the following in summary: “In fact, the AK Party is being tried here. I never thought that such a scene would be present in courtrooms during the AK Party rule. I was wrong.”
The decision was disclosed at the sixth hearing on July 6, 2018. Mustafa Ünal was given a 10-year and six-month prison sentence for “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.” The judges made no reduction in his sentence on basis that he showed no remorse and for his behavior during the trial.
Ünal’s request for release was rejected. The decision was taken by a majority vote. Abdullah Ok, a member of the court, wrote a concurring opinion. Judge Ok said Mustafa Ünal’s release should have been decided, but he should have been punished for “the violation of the Constitution.”
The verdict about Ünal was approved by the Court of Appeal. Accordingly, The Court of Appeal did not detect any illegitimacy for the punishment of him on charge of “being a member of a terrorist organization.” The Court also ruled for the continuation of his detention.
The verdict was referred to the Court of Cassation.
The Court of Cassation
Mustafa Ünal appealed to the Constitutional Court two times: The first one was on April 11, 2017 and the second one was on March 19, 2018. These appeals were then consolidated and the Constitutional Court rejected the claims about the violation of Mustafa Ünal’s rights. In the decision made on Nov. 28, 2018, it was stated that there were convincing evidences about Ünal and the detention was scaled. In the decision, Ünal’s claim that he “was arrested just because of his acts in the scope of freedom of expression” was not sound.
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 Ünal was being tried as well.
Chief of Public Prosecutors Office’s letter of notification at December 23rd, 2019 requested the sentences of Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne and İbrahim Karayeğen along with Ünal 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 Mehmet Özdemir to be reversed.
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Indictment)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Verdict)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Defense)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Defense)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (The Constitutional Court's Judgement)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Defense on the Merits of the Case)
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (Notification of the Prosecutor's Office (CoC))
Zaman Newspaper Main Trial (The Court of Appeal's Judgement)