(hudson-ny.org) An Istanbul court refused to release arrested journalists Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener, as well as 12 other suspects, in the first hearing of an alleged coup plot case Monday.
Fourteen suspects, including journalists Şık, Şener and Soner Yalçın, the owner of the dissident online news portal Oda TV, are accused of ties to Ergenekon, an alleged ultranationalist gang accused of plotting to overthrow the government. The 14 appeared before Istanbul’s 16th High Criminal Court on their 265th day of arrest, prompting anger from colleagues and representatives from local and international journalistic organizations at the slow pace of the legal process.
Philippe Leruth from the European Federation of Journalists, or EFJ, highlighted the importance of support during a protest in front of the courthouse.
“Everybody has to understand that if there are concerns about press freedom, it means democracy is in danger,” he said. “I hope this will make [the government] think more about this case, especially during a time when many ‘Arab Spring’ countries are taking Turkey as a model for democracy.”
Ümit Gürtuna, the spokesman of the Platform of Freedom for Journalists, said there were nearly 10,000 cases in Turkey involving journalists and that the number of arrested journalists had now reached 76. Gürtuna also said Turkey was at the top of the list in terms of the number of journalists that have been arrested.
“This is a shame for a country that is trying to improve its democracy,” he said.
Suspect Kaşif Kozinoğlu, a former intelligence operative, was scheduled to appear in court Monday as well, but he died of a heart attack Nov. 12 in prison.
The court decided to postpone the trial until Dec. 26.
During the trial, the defense lawyers also demanded that the judges be recused from the case; a higher court is expected to rule on the demand some time next week.
A row broke out between members of the press and security guards in front of the hearing room at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse just prior to the beginning of the trial.
Due to the intense attention the case has attracted, the trial was held in the larger hall of the First Court of Serious Crimes. A quota of three persons was allocated to the families and acquaintances of the suspects, 20 for the Turkish press and 10 for the international press. Despite the quotas, however, many local journalists were turned away from the trial room as members of the international press were given priority for entry into the courtroom.
There was a separate row between the security guards themselves as the guards standing in front of the hearing room argued with security personnel in charge of registering the names of journalists during the morning.
The Ergenekon investigations have divided the Turkish population. To some they represent the “cleansing of the century”. To its detractors the Ergenekon investigation is politically motivated; the alleged organization itself a deliberate fabrication by government sympathizers. Criticism grew stronger after the arrest of journalists in February and March 2011. Even the biggest fans of the government worry that the legitimacy of the Ergenekon case is being dented by heavy-handed tactics such as the arrests of Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener. The real goal of the Ergenekon investigation was not to go after the deep state but to intimidate and silence opponents of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), particularly critics of the vast network of Gülen’s supporters known as the Gülen Movement.
Ergenekon (organization) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)