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Turkish court rules to continue pretrial detention of journalist Gündem

A Turkish court ruled on Tuesday for a continuation of the pretrial detention of veteran Turkish journalist Mehmet Gündem, who was arrested on Nov. 1, 2017 on terrorism charges stemming from his alleged links to the Gülen movement.

Gündem appeared before the İstanbul 35th High Criminal Court for his second hearing on Tuesday. The court adjourned proceedings until Jan. 8, 2019 at the end of the hearing.

According to information shared by @P24DavaTakip, which follows the trials of jailed journalists in Turkey, Gündem defended himself before the judges against charges of his alleged membership in the Gülen movement and his alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone messaging app.

“The prosecutor has tried to establish telephone contacts with some people. I have never had contact with these people as part of any organization. The prosecution has also tried to present these contacts as if they were new. However, they date back 10 years,” Gündem said.

Reiterating that he has never used ByLock, Gündem said, “I repeat the statements I made in my previous defense on this issue.”

Gündem said during his first hearing on Aug. 14, 2018 that the phone number to which it was claimed he downloaded ByLock does not belong to him. He also stated that he has used the same mobile phone number since 1995.

Turkish authorities believe ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen, and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

When the judge inquired about notes on his computer, Gündem said: “These notes are my notes about biographies on which I worked. I worked with many people like [former Turkish President) Abdullah Gül, [the late Turkish-Armenian businessman] İshak Alaton and businessman Can Kıraç for their biographies.”

One of Gündem’s lawyers, Ömer Faik Çetiner, objected to the prosecutor’s efforts to link his client to a case opened against the Journalists and Writers Foundation (JWF), while another lawyer, Macit Ceylan, pointed out the fact that other members of the JWF such as former chairmen Hüseyin Gülerce and Latif Erdoğan had not been arrested.

Gündem had said during his first hearing on Aug. 14, 2018 that he became a member of the JWF in 2015 upon an invitation but that because of a dispute he resigned on Nov. 30, 2015.

The JWF, which was a Turkish civil society organization registered with the United Nations and headquartered in İstanbul, was closed by a government decree under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The organization subsequently moved its main office to New York City.

Despite his lawyers’ requests for his immediate release and acquittal, the court ordered the continuation of Gündem’s imprisonment.

Gündem, who used to work as a columnist for the Milliyet daily, was detained on Nov. 1, 2017, along with 44 colleagues as part of an operation against the JWF, which was closed down in the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt over alleged affiliation with the faith-based Gülen movement.

Gündem was subsequently arrested by a court on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization,” as the Turkish government labels the Gülen movement. An indictment against the journalists seeks a prison sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years on terrorism charges.

Gündem, who is currently jailed in İstanbul’s Silivri Prison, was visited by lawyers from the P24 Independent Journalism Foundation and completed a questionnaire that aims to expose the problems faced by journalists jailed in the country.

To a question asking whether he was ever visited by a member of parliament, Gündem said “No.” He also said a ban on writing and receiving letters imposed on him by the prison administration was recently lifted.

Turkey is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 237 journalists and media workers were in jail as of October 17, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 169 were under arrest pending trial while only 68 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 148 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down some 200 media outlets, including Kurdish news agencies and newspapers, after a coup attempt in Turkey on July 15, 2016.

(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF])

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