The 26th Istanbul Criminal Court on Sept. 19 rejected demands to release a group of journalists and writers who have been in jail for more than a year, in a case into the “media leg” of the Gülen network.
The names included renowned novelist Ahmet Altan and columnists Mehmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne and Mustafa Ünal. All of them used to write for newspapers such as Zaman, Taraf and Bugün, which are all now closed but used to be close to the line of Fethullah Gülen, the U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the July 15, 2016 military coup attempt.
The defendants in the case are accused of being aware of the coup attempt and writing in favor of it, therefore engaging in cooperation with the coup plotters. Prosecutors demand up to three life sentences for each of them.
Most of them - including Ali Bulaç, who comes from an Islamist background, and Şahin Alpay, who comes from a liberal-left background - said in their defenses that they did not know the true nature of Gülen’s “Hizmet” (Service) movement until after the coup attempt, and expressed regret that they had not left it earlier.
Ilıcak, a seasoned writer with a center-right background, said she never had any relationship with Gülenists other than as a writer for the Bugün newspaper. She also said the “real” Gülenists had either fled Turkey before or after the coup attempt or were now pretending that they support President Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government against Gülenists.
Meanwhile, another court hearing is due to take place in four days on Sept. 25 in Istanbul for three journalists from center-left daily Cumhuriyet. Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık, as well as Cumhuriyet foundation head Akın Atalay, are all scheduled to appear before the judge for the third time in the case. Despite having written against Gülen as well as the terror acts of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party
(PKK) for many years, they now find themselves accused of helping these two illegal networks. Gürsel, who is the head of the Turkish chapter of the International Press Institute (IPI), said in the most recent hearing that there is no evidence for his arrest and the evidence that he has presented in his defense has not even been taken into account by the court.
According to figures from the Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC), there are currently 160 journalists and writers in jail in this country, making Turkey the world’s number one jailer of journalists. But freedom of expression and media freedom issues are not limited to the question of journalists in prison – among many other restrictions there are also huge efforts to silence tweets.
In its 11th biannual transparency report, published on Sept. 19, Twitter revealed that Turkey was the first among countries in requests for removal of content, followed by Russia, France and Germany. Turkey accounted for 45 percent of all removal requests worldwide between Jan. 1 and June 30 this year, making a total of 2,710 removal requests, including 715 requests through court orders and another 1,995 requests through the government.
Twitter also said it had received eight requests from governments to take down content posted by journalists and news organizations in the first half of 2017, but did not act on any of them “because of their political and journalistic nature.”