Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.
Lalezer Sarıibrahimoğlu (pen name Lale Kemal), a veteran defense reporter and a former columnist with Zaman daily, was detained on 26 July 2016 in a post-coup investigation against Zaman’s former writers and employees. She was one of the 47 Zaman columnists and employees who faced warrants on the allegation of "membership in FETÖ/PDY," the name given to the Fethullah Gülen network by Turkish authorities.
On 30 July 2016, columnists Sarıibrahimoğlu, Ali Bulaç, Şahin Alpay, Mustafa Ünal, Nuriye Ural, Mümtazer Türköne and Ahmet Turan Alkan were jailed pending trial by the Istanbul 4th Criminal Judgeship of Peace.
Sarıibrahimoğlu and Ural were released pending trial on 12 October 2016 by the 10th Criminal Judgeship of Peace. Both were imposed judicial control measures.
On 24 April 2017, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul accepted the indictment where Sarıibrahimoğlu and 29 others were charged with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” “attempting to abolish the Parliament or render it unable to perform its duties” and “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or render it unable to perform its duties,” facing three aggravated life imprisonment sentences, and an additional term of up to 15 years in prison on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
In the indictment, the only reference to Sarıibrahimoğlu appeared on page 42, and her name was mentioned only once, under her pen name Lale Kemal. This reference to her comprised only one sentence and the indictment sait it was dated 18 January 2014, even though she was not working for Zaman at that time. Sarıibrahimoğlu presented to the court in writing a proof that she had started working for Zaman in June 2014, not in January 2014, when she made her defense statement.
The prosecutor claimed that Sarıibrahimoğlu attempted to “manipulate the public opinion in favor of FETÖ” by writing “...I find it dangerous that citizens are still afraid of being profiled simply because of their beliefs and ideas… [Creation of this fear] can only take place in former communist countries, in less developed dictatorial nations.”
No other reference to Sarıibrahimoğlu or her writings was provided in the 64-page indictment or in the additional documents included in the case file.
Sarıibrahimoğlu stated that the fact that she faced aggravated life sentences based on a quote claimed to belong to her, from a period when she was not even working for Zaman, demonstrated the weakness and unseriousness of the indictment.
According to the indictment, “The excerpts provided from the articles of columnists working for FETÖ/PDY media outlets have not been tweezed out; they cannot be taken as metaphors or analogies given the circumstances and the historical perspective; they are not only opposing the government and even in articles where there is no visible element of crime, the defendants have used expressions that violate the rights of state authorities and agencies beyond limits of freedom of expression, and it has been understood that by doing so, they have served the purpose of the organization.”
The first hearing of the trial was held on 18-19 September 2017.
During the third hearing of the “Zaman trial” on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking Sarıibrahimoğlu's conviction on the charge of “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being its member” as per Article 220/7 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecutor demanded Sarıibrahimoğlu's acquittal of the rest of the charges.
Acquitted of all charges
The final hearing of the Zaman trial was held on 5-6 July 2018. The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul acquitted Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu of all charges while convicting six journalists of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Acquittal upheld by Supreme Court of Appeals
On 24 September 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the acquittals of Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Akman, İhsan Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz in the Zaman trial. The judgment became official two months later, when it was uploaded on UYAP (national judiciary informatics system) in December.