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In Major Media Trial, Turkish Court Acquits 20 Defendants of Coup Charges

A week after a Turkish court delivered prison sentences to Cumhuriyet daily staff members and journalists, another court reached verdicts about 20 reporters and workers of Feza Media Group, which owned the Zaman newspaper, Cihan news agency and Aksiyon magazine, in another major media trial.

Majority of the defendants appeared at the court hearing at Caglayan Courthouse in Istanbul on Monday in a trial into members of the now-defunct Zaman daily and sister media outlets. Some of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Turkish prosecutors accuse the journalists of “attempting to topple an elected government,” and “membership to an armed terrorist organization.”

Turkish authorities blame Gulen Movement as the chief organizer of 2016 coup. The blanket definition of the movement as a terrorist outfit has fundamentally altered Turkey’s legal landscape and shaped the nature of investigations against Gulen-affiliated institutions or individuals.

Both U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and his sympathizers unflinchingly reject any association or link with the botched coup. But their disavowal of the attempted coup did not sway the approach of the Turkish government, which has embarked on an unrelenting campaign to wipe out any influence of the movement at home and abroad.

Any slight hint of affiliation with the movement has landed people in the crosshairs of the authorities. Prosecutors build their cases against journalists who once worked for Gulen-linked media organizations in the light of broader crackdown against the group.

On Monday, Hakan Tasdelen, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardes and Faruk Akkan, former Russia bureau chief of and the last head of Cihan News Agency, were sentenced to nine years in prison. The court ruled to keep them in prison.

Osman Nuri Aslan, Ahmet Irem and Yuksel Durgut who are released pending trial received 7-year prison sentence and the court ruled for the preservation of judicial checks and controls of the defendants.

The court sentenced Murat Avcioglu 3 years, one month and 15 days in prison, while it handed over 4-year jail terms to Cuma Kaya and Alaattin Guner, and Huseyin Turan. All of the four defendants were released.

Coup involvement is one of the commonplace accusations against the majority of the journalists in all media trials. The court acquitted all 18 defendants of coup-related charges.

Zafer Ozsoy, Huseyin Belli, Onur Kutlu, Ismail Kucuk and Ali Huseyin Celebi were also acquitted of charges of terrorist organization membership. The court also released Zafer Ozsoy on Monday.

The trial marked a low moment for Turkey’s media, which has been increasingly suffocated by the government’s trampling on free expression and press.

A report last week by London-based Amnesty International revealed a darker picture in Turkey. The state of emergency measures and laws, the disquieting report noted, create a “chilling climate of fear.”

Journalists Reject Charges

“Because I know Russian, English and partially Arabic, I received an offer to be Editor-in-Chief of Cihan News Agency. I accepted. I only worked three months as administrator,” Akkan told a packed courtroom.

He refused terrorism and coup-related charges with unshakeable conviction.

“According to rulings by Supreme Court, accusations must be grounded on concrete and substantial evidence to charge me with terrorist organization membership,” he said, pointing to discrepancies in the indictment and the prosecution’s inability to prove charges. “I have no activity other than conducting journalism.”

His defense encapsulated a major takeaway evident in all other defenses by the defendants. He only worked as a journalist and did not engage in any armed or criminal activity.

Hakan Tasdelen, the founder of Fia Production, said the portrayal of the founding purpose of his firm as spiriting property away from the country manipulates the very reality. This, he exclaimed, is beyond bad faith for reading intentions of defendants; rather it is complete ignoring of basic legal principles.

He said he found such accusations both ridiculous and an insult to the workings of his firm he founded in 2011.

“I served neither as a manager nor director in Cihan news agency. I did not understand what was said in [prosecutorial] remarks,” he said, citing the ambivalence of the prosecution.

Ali Huseyin Celebi, an accountant, also refused charges directed against him. He said that he only worked as a low-level staff member in Cihan news agency and was not responsible for either editorial policies or other affairs in the outlet.

He steadfastly rebuffed any terror-related accusation.

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