Mümtazer Türköne, an academic and columnist for the shuttered Zaman newspaper, was arrested in a series of raids targeting former Zaman journalists and columnists in late July 2016. He was jailed pending trial on 5 August 2016 on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”
In an indictment submitted to the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court in April 2017, Türköne, along with 29 other defendants, faced three aggravated life sentences for allegedly “attempting to overthrow the government, the constitutional order and the Parliament,” as well as a prison term of up to 15 years for “being a member of a terrorist organization.”
The first hearing of their trial took place on 18-19 September 2017. The court ruled to keep all jailed defendants behind bars and lifted their restrictions on access to a lawyer.
During the third hearing of the trial on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, seeking aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 15 years in prison for “violating the Constitution” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization” for nine of the 11 defendants, including Türköne. The court ruled to keep all jailed defendants behind bars and adjourned the trial until 10-11 May 2018 for the final defense statements.
The fourth hearing was held on 10-11 May 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
On the first day of the hearing, Türköne was one of only two defendants who gave their defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion. Türköne’s objections to the prosecutor’s final opinion on procedural grounds made its mark on the session. Türköne told the court that there were discrepancies between the prosecutor’s final opinion submitted during the previous hearing in April and the latest version of the final opinion handed out to the defendants in CDs to base their final defense statements on.
In his statement, Türköne provided detailed explanations regarding his newspaper columns that are held as evidence against him in the indictment. Noting at the end of his address to the court that he has not finished his defense, Türköne requested additional time to prepare a further statement concerning seven more of his articles on which the accusations are also based.
At the end of the fifth hearing, held on 7-8 June 2018, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the continuation of Türköne, Alkan, Karayeğen and Ünal’s detention. One of the judges on the panel gave a dissenting opinion on the ruling. Recalling Ali Bulaç’s release at the end of the previous hearing on grounds that the accusation against him may change, the judge asserted that all jailed defendants in the case should have been released based on the principle of legal equality.
The court set 5-6 July 2018 as the dates for the next hearing.
The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul issued its judgment at the end of the July 5-6 hearing. Six defendants, including Türköne, were convicted of “membership of a terrorist organization.” Türköne was sentenced to 10 years and 6 months in prison and ordered to remian behind bars pending the appeal process.
Regional court of appeals upholds trial court's judgment
The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld the trial court's verdict on 25 June 2019.
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 Mümtazer Türköne, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mustafa Ünal and editor İbrahim Karayeğen on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization.”
Supreme Court of Appeals judgment and release
On 24 September 2020, Türköne was released from the Silivri Prison, where he remained behind bars for more than 4 years as part of the Zaman trial. His release was ordered by the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals, which overturned Türköne's conviction on the grounds of "insufficient inspection." The Supreme Court's judgment was not formally communicated to Türköne's lawyer. According to pro-government media, the Supreme Court held that Türköne should have been charged with "aiding a terrorist organization." His file will now be sent to the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul for retrial.
Constitutional Court application
The Constitutional Court’s Second Section ruled that jailed former academic and Zaman columnist Mümtazer Türköne’s detention since August 2016 was not in violation of his right to liberty and security and his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
The court also found Türköne’s claims that access to his investigation file was restricted; and that his rights to effectively challenge the lawfulness of his detention and to be presumed innocent were violated to be “inadmissible” on the grounds that all three claims were “manifestly ill-founded.”
The top court’s judgment concerning Türköne’s application was published in the Official Gazette on 10 January 2020. Türköne’s individual application had been pending before the Constitutional Court since 28 March 2017.
Other trials against Türköne
Türköne also stood trial in a separate case in which he was charged in connection with an article published in February 2016. On 4 July 2017, Bakırköy 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance sentenced Türköne to 4 years and 2 months in prison for “threatening the president." The court initially sentenced Türköne to 5 years in prison and then granted a reduction taking into consideration Türköne’s good conduct during the proceedings.
Another trial where Türköne was charged with “insulting a public official” over an article he penned on 16 March 2014 concluded on 31 October 2019 at Istanbul’s Bakırköy 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance. The court fined Türköne TL 1,740 for his article.