Turkish authorities held on Monday the first hearing in the trial of nearly 30 journalists and writers who once worked for Zaman, the biggest newspaper in the country. The media outlet was later shut down by the government, and its reporters are now facing charges of terrorism and activities related to the failed 2016 coup.
Ali Bulac, a well-known Islamic sociologist, Turkey’s paramount defense reporter Lale Sariibrahimoglu, Political Sciecen Professor Mumtaz’er Turkone, Zaman Ankara Bureau Chief Mustafa Unal, writer Ahmet Turan Alkan, and famous leftist columnist Sahin Alpay, Cihan news agency director Faruk Akkan, and dozens of others will appear in the court in the upcoming days after more than one year of pre-trial detention.
Former Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanli and other key editors are being tried in absentia.
“I could not have committed a crime by writing for a newspaper which is published by the official permission of authorities,” Mr. Bulac, who had been writing for the newspaper for more than two decades, said during the hearing on Monday.
“According to which law, did I commit crime over writing for Zaman after December 17-25?” he asked.
After the coup attempt on July 15 last year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s government retrospectively declared December 17 and December 25, 2013, the turning points: whoever worked for institutions and organizations affiliated with U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen after that date, were regarded criminals in post-coup trials across the country.
On December 17, police arrested sons of three Turkish ministers, Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, and more than 50 other individuals on charges of bribery, tender rigging, money laundering, gold smuggling and transactions worth billions of dollars carried out on behalf of the Iranian government through Turkish state-run Halkbank. The later charge resulted in a separate trial by the US Justice Department in New York City.
On December 25, Istanbul prosecutors attempted to question Bilal, the son of then-Prime Minister Erdogan, in a separate probe.
Mr. Erdogan blamed alleged Gulen sympathizers for initiating the investigation in an attempt to topple him.
Mr. Bulac rejected the legal rationale behind retrospectively designating anybody who worked for the Gulen-affiliated organization after that date. The writer further denied any membership in the Gulen movement.
The majority of the defendants in the Zaman case face up to three aggravated life sentences over columns, news stories and tweets.
The hearing will continue through the week.