Ali Bulaç, a former columnist for the shuttered daily newspaper Zaman, turned himself in to police on July 27, 2016, when he learned from the press that there was a warrant for his arrest, he told Istanbul’s Fourth Court of Penal Peace at his July 30, 2016, arraignment hearing.
The court arraigned him and codefendants and fellow former Zaman journalists Şahin Alpay, Ahmet Turan Alkan, and Mustafa Ünal on charges of being members of a terrorist organization. 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.
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.
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.
Bulaç 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.
Bulaç denies the charges, according to the indictment. If convicted, he faces multiple life sentences without parole.
The next court date is scheduled for December 8, 2017, according to press reports.
Bulaç, who was 66 at the time of his arrest, told the court that he had had heart bypass surgery and suffers from high blood pressure, diabetes, and enlarged thyroid, the court records indicate.