Only One Newspaper Covers Trial of 13 Journalists in Istanbul

journalists, media trial, Turkey, freedom of expression
Turkish Journalist Bunyamin Koseli

At least 13 journalists appeared at a court hearing on Tuesday in one of a series of media trials in Istanbul, and it was only covered by one Turkish newspaper.

The lack of media coverage points to a loss of interest in a dozen of media trials, an emerging fatigue as well as consistent, conscious ignoring of the ongoing trials where journalists face aggravated life sentences over reports, columns and tweets.

The tragedy was again on full display on Tuesday in Istanbul. The majority of the journalists tried in vain to prove their innocence amid a set of charges ranging from terrorism to abetting a failed coup.

Bunyamin Koseli, an investigative reporter with the weekly magazine Aksiyon and Zaman newspaper before they were taken over by the government on March 4, 2016, was not even a journalist when the coup took place. The moment government-appointed trustee took over the Zaman and Aksiyon, he quit his profession entirely, abandoning his interest both in political affairs and journalism.

He was, as he told judges, trying to finalize his efforts to open a store to sell antique stuff. He rejected any link to the abortive coup.

How could someone who was working for the opening of the store day and night for months be linked to the coup or coup-related activities? he asked the court. The day the coup took place, his father came from the southern province of Adana to help his son to open the antique store.

Zaman was the flagship newspaper of faith-based Gulen movement, a former ally of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, and found itself at the center of an unrelenting political crackdown after U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen and President Erdogan fell out four years ago.

Not only Gulen sympathizers, but also anybody who somehow worked at a Gulen-linked institution found themselves as main targets of the government’s anti-Gulenist frenzy.

Aware of the legal and media blitz, the journalist Koseli explained his position at the newspaper. He said he had zero influence over the newspaper’s editorial policy and, as he was only a reporter, not an editor, he never attended editorial meetings.

Journalist Tugba Tekerek, who was also briefly kept in custody following the coup, reported the full session of the hearing in a series of tweets.

Mr. Koseli requested from court to change the indictment on one point: “You may decide for continuity of my imprisonment. But please remove the prosecution’s claim that I’m in custody due to escape risk. No. I voluntarily surrendered to police after I heard the arrest warrant.”

Cihan Acar, the youngest journalist who is in prison for more than a year, also shared his ordeal in the court. He came to public spotlight two weeks ago when five prisons guards forced him to the ground and cut his long hair despite his own will.

Main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) lawmaker Baris Yarkadas called the act as a torture and vowed to bring the issue to Parliament to investigate the guards who forcefully cut the journalist’s hair.

Mr. Acar said the imprisonment left him in a despondency and state of psychological trauma after the court overturned an earlier ruling for release 13 journalists.

On March 31, Istanbul court first decided to release the journalists over the lack of any evidence to keep them in jail. As soon as the decision reported by the state-run Anadolu agency, a media blitz by government supporters and journalists was launched. The prosecutor who sought their release and judges who ruled in favor of the release suddenly found themselves as targets of a sustained campaign by government trolls. Judges were suspended in April.

When young Acar and his prison friends were preparing to leave and reunited with families outside Silivri prison on outskirts of Istanbul, the decision was reversed. They were in the waiting room, and their families were outside. Guards took them back to their cells.

He vividly remembers that moment, Mr. Acar told the court.

“That day I threw all my stuff, spoon and plate to the trash because I was about to leave. The next day, I retrieved them and ate my lunch on the same plate with the same spoon.”

Other journalists shared similar heart-breaking stories. Abdullah Kilic, another journalist, refused coup charges, sharing his anti-coup tweets he posted while the putsch was still unfolding.

Judges did not ask them any question. They look stone-faced and expressionless. They just listened, with no facial expression or reaction.