Zaman | Imprisoned in Turkey | July 27, 2016

Job:Internet Reporter, Print reporter
Medium:Internet, Print
Beats Covered:Politics
Local or Foreign:Local
Charge:Anti-state, False News
Length of Sentence:Not Sentenced
Reported Health Problems:Yes

Police detained Mustafa Ünal, former Ankara correspondent for the shuttered newspaper Zaman, at his home in Ankara the morning of July 27, 2016, CPJ reported at the time.

The court arraigned him and codefendants and fellow former Zaman journalists Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan, and Şahin Alpay on charges of being members of a terrorist organization on July 30 of the same year. They were accused of following exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (FETÖ/PDY, by its Turkish acronym) and masterminding a failed military coup on July 15, 2016.

According to records of the arraignment hearing, which CPJ has reviewed, the state alleged that Bulaç, Alpay, Alkan, and Ünal wrote articles in Zaman praising FETÖ/PDY and that the newspaper was the group's media organ.

The state further alleged that because Bulaç and the other Zaman columnists continued writing for the newspaper after its editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, was charged in absentia of being "a member of an armed terrorist organization," they remained involved even though they knew the group included armed elements, according to court records.

According to the court records, the state also alleged that Bulaç, Alpay, Alkan, and Ünal praised Gülenists on social media, despite what the state described as "strong discourse and public information" that an armed uprising would take place.

The court judged Bulaç, Alpay, Alkan, and Ünal to be flight risks and ordered them jailed pending trial. Many people have fled in the wake of the government crackdown on suspected Gülenists.

The court did not specify the accusations against the individual journalists but judged their cases collectively, court documents show.

An Istanbul court in March 2016 ordered the Feza Media Group, which owned Zaman and several other media outlets, placed under trustees appointed by the government. The government used emergency powers arrogated after the failed July 15 military coup to order the newspaper closed by decree on July 27, 2016.

According to records of the arraignment hearing, Ünal, then 49, told the court that he retired from Zaman after it was placed under trusteeship, and that he waited for the police to come to his home, which he said showed he had no intention to try to escape should the court grant bail. Ünal told the court he suffers from thyroid problems.

His lawyer, İbrahim İpar, told CPJ in 2016 that he was initially unable to obtain the records of Ünal's testimony to police or prosecutors because of restrictions established by the state of emergency.

Ünal is on trial alongside 30 journalists and media workers and an academic. All are charged with "attempting, through violence and force, to disrupt and replace the order as recognized by Turkey's Constitution," "attempting through violence and force to eliminate or prevent Parliament from carrying out its duties," and "being a member of an armed terrorist organization." Not all of the defendants are in custody.

The trial's first hearing began in Istanbul on September 18, 2017, according to local reports.

In the indictment, reviewed by CPJ, the prosecution said that the defendants' journalism, including opinion pieces or their employment by pro-Gülen outlets such as the daily Zaman and Cihan News Agency, is evidence that the journalists were part of the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY).

The indictment accused the journalists – which it referred to as "the media force of the terrorist organization" – of producing false news to weaken the government, insult or humiliate the authorities, attempt to disrupt the peace, and to create an environment suitable for a coup.

Ünal denies the charges, according to the indictment. If convicted, he faces multiple life sentences, without parole.

The next court date was scheduled for December 8, 2017, according to press reports.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.