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 in 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 faced terror charges, indicating that they knew that the Gülen-led group was an armed terrorist group."
In an indictment that became public in April 2017, the prosecutor sought three aggravated life sentences and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for Alkan and 29 other defendants from various media outlets under the Feza Media Group.
The first hearing of the trial was held on 18-19 September 2017. The court ruled to keep all imprisoned defendants behind bars and lifted their restriction on access to a lawyer.
The third hearing was held on 5 April 2018. The prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “membership in an armed terrorist organization” for nine of the 11 defendants, including Alkan.
The fourth hearing was held on 10-11 May 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. While releasing columnist Ali Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir, the court ordered the continuation of the detention of the remaining imprisoned defendants including Alkan.
Conviction and release
The final hearing was held on 5-6 July 2018. The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted six journalists including Alkan of “membership in 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 pre-trial detention in Silivri Prison for almost two years as part of the case, was released on 6 July 2018.
On 25 June 2019, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld the trial court's judgment.
Supreme Court of Appeals 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.”
On 24 September 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the convictions of Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mustafa Ünal and İbrahim Karayeğen in the Zaman trial. The judgment became official two months later, when it was uploaded on UYAP (national judiciary informatics system) in December. Alkan, who was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months in prison, will have to return to prison to serve the remainder of his sentence.
Supreme Court of Appeals judgment reversed
Following an objection filed by Alkan’s lawyer, the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals requested a correction of the judgment for Alkan on 12 February 2021. Stating that Alkan had criticized "FETÖ" on many occasions; that he did not have any administrative duties in Zaman; and that there was no evidence in the file showing that he was a "member" of the organization other than the articles he wrote, the General Prosecutor’s Office held that Alkan should have been charged with "aiding" the organization.
Based on the General Prosecutor’s opinion, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals decided to reverse its previous decision to uphold Alkan’s sentence on the grounds of misjudgment due to an incorrect assessment of the evidence. The judgment, rendered unanimously on 18 March 2021, said the appeal by the defendant’s lawyer was deemed appropriate. The judgment was sent to the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court for retrial.
The retrial of former Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne and editor Mehmet Özdemir resumed on 11 January 2022. Ahmet Turan Alkan attended the hearing as the fifth defendant in the case. The trial court decided to abide by the Supreme Court's reversal judgment. Ruling to send the case file to the prosecutor's office for the drafting of their final opinion, the court adjourned the retrial until 7 April 2022.