Sunday

1st Oct 2023

Opinion

Turkish journalists on trial for fake crimes

  • Journalists and supporters gathered in front of Zaman's building to protest against the newspaper's takeover in March 2016. (Photo: Today's Zaman)

We still do not know the real dynamics and the actors of the botched coup that is being used by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan to continue his purges and to silence anyone who dares to criticise him.

What we do know is that Erdogan put the blame squarely on Fethullah Gulen, a self-exiled cleric in the US.

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  • President Erdogan lost his position as mayor of Istanbul in the late 1990s just because he recited a poem, but he has been openly against freedom of expression. (Photo: Flickr)

He also imprisoned around 60,000 people and purged another 160,000 from government posts - most of them followers of Gulen's faith-based movement.

Although it is bad enough for a faith-based movement to be involved in a coup, Brussels believes it was a broad coalition within the military that had attempted it, and that Erdogan knew about it before it had actually started.

Although Erdogan lost his position as mayor of Istanbul in the late 1990s - just because he recited a poem - he has been openly against freedom of expression after he reinforced his power. And one of the main victims of the coup has been the free media in Turkey.

The numbers vary, but around 200 journalists are now in prison in Turkey - an EU accession candidate country. This means that, in terms of jailing journalists, China now comes only a distant second to Turkey.

After 14 months in jail, the day of the trial for my newspaper, Zaman, has finally come.

Since Monday (18 September), my colleagues are trying to defend themselves in court. It will be an uphill battle, as the accusations found in the indictments are textbook cases of utmost absurdity.

Zaman was already brutally seized by the Turkish government in early March 2016 and so-called trustees were appointed to the biggest newspaper in Turkey to turn it overnight into a pro-Erdogan daily.

Most of my colleagues and I were sacked based on an obscure Turkish Labour Law article, accusing us of indecent and immoral behaviour - including sexual assault in the workplace. This legal article effectively prevented any of us from getting any benefits or compensation, and killed all of our possible rights.

The government seized Zaman five months before the coup. However, the prosecutors went after almost all of us right after the putsch, alleging that we all had attempted to overthrow the government with our articles.

If we are to believe the 64-page indictment, it was actually a baby in one of Zaman's advertisements that proved the military coup was coming. All 31 defendants are in jail because of this ad and the articles they had written.

"In the media and web pages of the organisation, a commercial had been aired on 5 October for the Zaman daily," a paragraph on page 51 of the indictment said.

"After an aerial image of a city centre where we hear sirens, a baby is smiling on the screens. We assess that this commercial was actually heralding the looming coup d'etat," it said.

The indictment explains: "Exactly 9 months and 10 days after the start of the commercial, which showed sirens and the image of a ruined city together with a profile of a smiling baby, the coup took place. This cannot be explained by mere coincidence."

The prosecutor is requesting three life sentences for each and every journalist, for attempting to change the constitutional order, and for aiding the coup.

Additionally, the prosecution is seeking another 15 years imprisonment for each of them, for being members of an armed terrorist organisation.

According to the indictment, there was not a single weapon found related to defendants. There is not a single piece of evidence connecting them to the botched coup, and no communication whatsoever with the coup perpetrators or the military personnel.

What the prosecutor does have is weapons disguised as articles published on the pages of Zaman.

Take the example of the journalist and academic, Sahin Alpay. He is being accused of participating in "perception engineering".

An article, written by him on 8 February 2014, with the title "Both crime and punishment are personal", is being used as evidence of perception engineering.

In December 2013, Alpay called on the then Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, to be more active against corruption, as Zaman was reporting on cases of corruption in the government and Erdogan's family.

The prosecutor has noted that this article was an attempt to create conflict between government branches.

But there is one particular sentence in the indictment that deserves special attention.

On page 64, the prosecutor says: "even in their articles, which seem to have no criminal activity, they have violated the rights of the statesmen and government authorities".

The prosecutor has invented the crime of "violating the rights of statesmen" just to show us all the state of justice in today's Turkey.

Selcuk Gultasli is a journalist. He was Zaman's Brussels bureau chief until the newspaper was taken over by the Turkish government.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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