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Istanbul Prosecutor Seeks Aggravated Life Sentences for Zaman Journalists

An Istanbul prosecutor sought aggravated life sentences for journalists with now-defunct Zaman daily at a major media trial on Thursday, with judges dismissing demands by lawyers for the release of the imprisoned journalists.

Ali Bulac, Mumtaz’er Turkone, Sahin Alpay and more than a dozen other journalists appeared at a court hearing in Istanbul Caglayan Courthouse on Thursday. In total, 31 journalists and press members face additional charges in Turkey’s major media trial at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.

Alpay who was released last month asked for an end to house arrest for him, citing his deteriorating health. He said he was brought to hospital 88 times during 20 months of his imprisonment. The house arrest limits his access to proper medical treatment, he noted.

He challenged the prosecutor, saying that he first time saw some new charges, which were not previously mentioned in the indictment.

His lawyer Tuncel Yazgan also confronted the prosecutor, pointing to technical and legal flaws in the case. “There are new documents, which were not included in the indictment and case, presented. The evidence was not read. Where did the prosecutor find those files we first heard today?” the lawyer asked.

“No one should be arrested if Constitutional Court rules that there is no indication of guilt,” he said, citing the last month’s top court decision that paved the way for the release of Alpay. “If the house arrest does not end, we will apply to Constitutional Court.”

During his defense, writer and columnist Ali Bulac said he had been working on a project for a new interpretation of Quran when he was arrested in the aftermath of the coup. The sociologist, who is well known for his studies on political Islam, philosophy and social issues, stressed that he had long nurtured civic views of Islam.

Endorsement of a coup, he emphasized, would contradict his lifelong commitment to his peaceful understanding of Islam, and would mean a denial of his very personality.

“If I have time left to live when I’m released, I want to finish my project of a new, groundbreaking interpretation (tafsir) of Quran.”

The prosecution presented a lengthy defense of his charges against journalists and tried to convince judges why the journalists must get stiffer punishment for their articles, which he claimed, psychologically prepared society for a looming military putsch.

The defense side, however, highlighted the contradictions and logical gaps in the indictment, lack of concrete evidence and politically-motivated accusations that permeated the indictment.

The prosecutor demanded aggravated life sentences for former Zaman Ankara Bureau Chief Mustafa Unal, writer and columnist Ahmet Turan Alkan, journalists Mehmet Ozdemir, Ihsan Duran and Orhan Kemal Cengiz on the charge of “violation of the constitution.”

Additionally, the prosecutor also asked for up to 7,5 to 15 years in prison sentence for Mehmet Ozdemir, Mustafa Unal, Ahmet Turan Alkan and other names on the charge of membership to an “armed terrorist organization.”

Other journalists, Nuriye Akman Ural and Lale Sariibrahimoglu, have been absolved of charges of “violation of the constitution” and “attempting to topple Turkish Parliament and government.” Still, the prosecutor sought up to 15 years in prison sentence for them on the charge of “abetting and aiding [Gulen] organization although they are not members.”

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