Ali Bulaç, a sociologist, theologian and former columnist of the shuttered Zaman and Yarına Bakış newspapers, was arrested on 27 July 2016 as part of an investigation targeting media outlets allegedly affiliated with the Fethullah Gülen movement. On 30 July 2016, Bulaç and other former Zaman columnists Ahmet Turan Alkan, Nuriye Akman, Lale Kemal, Mustafa Ünal and Şahin Alpay were jailed pending trial by the Istanbul 4th Criminal Judgeship of Peace on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization.”
Bulaç and other columnists were accused of “praising FETÖ/PDY” and “continued to work as columnists for the newspaper even after its former Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı was formally charged with ‘membership of a terrorist organization’” and “although there were strong signs that the organization would stage an armed insurrection before the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, they continued to contribute to the newspaper” and “even after the 17-25 December 2013” graft probes.
On 1 December 2016, upon a request by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, the Istanbul 11th Criminal Judgeship of Peace ruled to confiscate the properties of Bulaç and 53 others on the grounds that they “financed the terrorist organization or acquired assets through being a member of a terrorist organization.”
The indictment against Bulaç and 29 others was accepted by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. In the indictment, the suspects were charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish Grand National Assembly and the government of the Republic of Turkey” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”
On 9 March 2017, Bulaç’s lawyers lodged an application with the Constitutional Court, claiming that his detention as part of the Zaman trial violates his right to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The first hearing of the “Zaman trial” was held on 18 and 19 September 2017. In his defense at the hearing, Bulaç said, “Even though the prosecutor states there isn’t any element of crime in my articles, he accuses me at the end of the indictment.” At the end of the hearing, the court lifted the restriction on access to lawyers and adjourned the trial until 8 December 2017.
Prosecutor’s final opinion
At the third hearing of the trial on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, asking the court to sentence Bulaç and nine former Zaman columnists and staff members to aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in prison for “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order” and “membership of a terrorist organization.”
The fourth hearing was held on 10-11 May 2018 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. The court release Bulaç and Zaman’s former Responsible Managing Editor Mehmet Özdemir under judicial control measures and lifted Şahin Alpay’s house arrest. Ali Bulaç was released from Silivri No. 9 Prison later on 11 May 2018.
The fifth hearing of the trial was held on 7-8 June 2018. Making his defense statement in response to the accusations in the prosecutor’s final opinion, Bulaç said Zaman was a legal establishment until the day it was shut down. Stating that his newspaper articles were not considered as a whole in the indictment and the final opinion, Bulaç said only some of his sentences were cherry-picked by the prosecutor.
The final hearing of the Zaman trial was held on 5-6 July 2018. The court convicted six of the 11 journalists on trial, including Bulaç, of “membership of a terrorist organization.” Bulaç was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months in prison. The court ruled for the continuation of the judicial control measures imposed on Bulaç.
Constitutional Court application
The Plenary of the Constitutional Court ruled on Bulaç’s individual application on 3 May 2019. The Court ruled by a majority that Bulaç’s pre-trial detention as part of the Zaman trial violated his right to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The court ordered a payment of TL 25,000 to Bulaç in non-pecuniary damages.
The reasoned judgment in writing was issued on the Constitutional Court’s official website on 26 June 2019.
Regional court upholds judgment
The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the İstanbul Regional Court of Justice issued its judgment concerning the Zaman trial in June 2019. The appellate court upheld the convictions rendered by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court:
Bulaç’s file is still pending before the Supreme Court of Appeals.