Ahmet Turan Alkan, a former columnist for Zaman daily, was arrested along with dozens of other Zaman journalists in a sweeping crackdown on suspected followers of Fethullah Gülen, a preacher living in the US that the government accuses of leading a “parallel state structure” and a terrorist organization, the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), on July 27, 2016.
Alkan, whose writing mostly focused on literature, history and politics, was imprisoned pending trial on July 30 on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” The court maintained that Alkan and other former Zaman columnists continued to write for Zaman even after its former editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, was charged with membership of a terrorist organization, indicating that they knew that the Gülen-led group was an armed terrorist group.
In an indictment that became public in mid-April, the prosecutor seeks three aggravated life sentences and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for Alkan and 29 other defendants, most of whom are former staff members and columnists of Feza Media Group, which Zaman belonged to.
Alkan appeared before a court for the first time during the first hearing of his trial on September 18-19, 2017, presenting his defense statement. “According to this indictment, the prosecutor might well have accused me of being the mastermind and propagandist of the Great Flood. I thank him for not taking this that far.”
The court ruled to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars and lifted the State of Emergency restrictions on access to lawyers.
On December 8, 2017, Alkan appeared again before the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court for the second hearing of his trial, insisting that the case is purely political and expressing doubt that he will ever be free.
The court released three employees of the Zaman advertising department at the end of the hearing, ruling to keep all other imprisoned defendants, including Alkan, behind bars.
During the third hearing of the “Zaman trial” on April 5, 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in prison for “violating the Constitution” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization” for nine of the 11 columnists standing trial in the case, including Alkan. Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants in the case, including Alkan, and adjourned the trial until May 10-11 for the final defense statements.
The fourth hearing was held on 10-11 May 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. The court ruled to release columnist Ali Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir, while ordering the lifting of Şahin Alpay’s house arrest. The court ordered the continuation of the detention of the remaining imprisoned defendants in the case — columnists Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Ankara representative Mustafa Ünal and night editor İbrahim Karayeğen.
At the end of the fifth hearing, held on 7-8 June 2018, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the continuation of detention of Alkan, Türköne, Karayeğen and Ünal. One of the judges on the panel gave a dissenting opinion on that ruling. Recalling Ali Bulaç’s release at the end of the previous hearing on the grounds that the nature of the allegation against him could be subject to change, the judge asserted that all jailed defendants in the case should have been released based on the principle of legal equality.
Conviction and release
Issuing its judgment at the end of the July 5-6 hearing, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted six journalists including Alkan of “membership of a terrorist organization” while acquitting five of the defendants. Alkan was handed down a prison sentence of 8 years and 9 months. The court ruled for his release.
Alkan, who had been in pretrial detention in Silivri Prison for almost two years as part of the case, was released from Silivri Prison later on 6 June 2018.
Regional court upholds sentence
On 25 June 2019, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld the trial court's judgment.
On 23 December 2019, the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals submitted their opinion on the "Zaman trial," asking the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals to uphold the convictions of Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Mustafa Ünal and editor İbrahim Karayeğen on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization.”