Turkish court hands heavy sentences to Zaman journalists

Turkish authorities should drop all charges against six journalists who worked for the now-shuttered Zaman daily newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The journalists were found guilty today by a court in Istanbul and handed heavy prison sentences, BBC Türkçe and the daily Cumhuriyet reported.

Eleven suspects–four of them in detention–appeared before an Istanbul court today in the final hearing of the case involving Zaman, which was shut down in 2016 over alleged links to U.S.- based Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen.

The court found six journalists guilty of “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization.” Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, and Ahmet Turan Alkan were sentenced to 8 years and 9 months in prison; Mümtaz’er Türköne and Mustafa Ünal were sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison; and İbrahim Karayeğen was sentenced to 9 years in prison.

“Today’s verdicts against the Zaman journalists are another example of Turkish authorities’ vindictive policy against critical media,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia research associate Gulnoza Said. “We call on Turkey to drop the charges and stop the systematic use of anti-terror laws to prosecute journalists.”

Journalists İhsan Dağı, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Mehmet Özdemir, Nuriye Ural, and Orhan Kemal Cengiz were acquitted of all charges.

All 11 defendants were acquitted of the more serious charge of “attempting to eliminate the constitutional order,” which could have resulted in a life sentence.

Of the four journalists held in detention during the trial, the court ordered Türköne and Ünal to remain in detention as appeals continue, but released Alkan and Karayeğen under judicial control, which means they are under a travel ban and must report to police, according to media reports.

The trial began in September 2017 with more defendants, but was split into two as journalists were separated from media workers and businesspeople involved withZaman. The other trial ended in April, CPJ documented.