Şahin Alpay, a well-known political scientist and a long-time columnist for the shuttered Zaman daily, was arrested on 27 July 2016 as part of a sweeping operation targeting former columnists and executives of Zaman.
He was imprisoned pending trial along with other Zaman columnists Ali Bulaç, Ahmet Turan Alkan and Mustafa Ünal on 31 July 2016 on the grounds that they "wrote columns praising the Fetullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)" and "continued to work for Zaman even after its then editor-in-chief, Ekrem Dumanlı, was charged with membership of an armed terrorist organization." The court maintained that Zaman was the "media organ of FETÖ/PDY."
Alpay's lawyers applied to the Constitutional Court on 8 September 2016, requesting an interim measure to end his imprisonment. On 26 October 2016, the Court rejected their request.
Alpay's lawyers lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on 20 February 2017. On 3 March, the Strasbourg court also rejected the request for an interim measure but decided to give priority to Alpay's application.
Indictment and trial
An indictment accepted in April 2017 by Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court sought three aggravated life imprisonment sentences for Alpay and 29 others on "coup" charges and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for "membership in a terrorist group."
The first hearing of the Zaman trial took place on 18 September 2017. In his defense statement, Alpay described himself as a "true liberal" and rejected the accusations and demanded to be released pending trial. The full text of Alpay's defense statement can be found here.
During the second hearing held on 8 December 2017, Alpay told the court that his health continued to deteriorate and that he was told that he needed a coronary angiogram.
Constitutional Court judgments and release
On 11 January 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that Alpay's pre-trial detention violated his right to liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press and ordered the trial court to take necessary measures for the elimination of the violations. An English translation of the Constitutional Court judgment can be found here.
However, both the trial court and the next court of first instance authorized to review objections rejected numerous petitions filed by Alpay’s lawyers requesting his release in accordance with the Constitutional Court judgment. Upon the trial court’s failure to implement the Constitutional Court judgment, Alpay’s lawyers lodged a new application with the Constitutional Court on 1 February 2018. The Constitutional Court said the application was granted priority status.
Issuing its judgment on 16 March 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled that the trial court's failure to implement its earlier judgment violated Alpay's right to liberty and security under Article 19 of the Constitution and ordered Alpay's immediate release. Based on the Constitutional Court's second judgment, the trial court ruled for Alpay's release but ordered that he be placed under house arrest. Accordingly, Alpay was released from Silivri Prison in the early hours of 17 March 2018.
European Court of Human Rigths judgment
On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its judgment on Alpay's application, ruling that his detention violated his right to liberty and security under Article 5/1 of the European Convention on Human Rights and his freedom of expression under Article 10.
The European Court urged Turkey to take necessary measures “to ensure the termination of Alpay’s pre-trial detention at the earliest possible date” under Article 46 of the Convention, which concerns binding force and execution of the ECtHR judgments. The ECtHR also held that Turkey was to pay Alpay 21,500 euros in non-pecuniary damages.
Prosecutor's final opinion
During the third hearing of the “Zaman trial,” held on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor submitted their final opinion, seeking aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of "attempting to overthrow the constitutional order" and an additional 15-year sentence on the charge of "membership in an armed terrorist organization" for nine of the 11 journalists on trial, including Alpay.
In his address to the court during the hearing, Alpay said that new allegations that were not present in the indictment were introduced in the prosecutor’s final opinion, and asked for additional time to prepare his final defense statement. He also noted that he made 88 visits to the hospital during the past 20 months but currently being under house arrest prevented him from going to the hospital for his chronic ailments due to his advanced age. He requested the court to lift his house arrest.
Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants and rejected Alpay’s request for the lifting of his house arrest. The court adjourned the trial until 10-11 May 2018.
At the end of the fourth hearing held on 10-11 May 2018, the court lifted Alpay’s house arrest but imposed a new judicial control measue in the form of going to the nearest police station once every to give his signature.
The final hearing of the trial took place on 6 July 2018. The court convicted six defendants, including Alpay, of "membership in a terrorist organization." Alpay was sentenced to 8 years and 9 months in prison. The court did not rule for his re-arrest, but ordered the continuation of the judicial control measure imposed on Alpay pending the appeal process.
The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld the trial court’s judgment on 25 June 2019.
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 overturn Alpay and Ali Bulaç's convictions as they "should have been charged with aiding the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization without being a member."
On 24 September 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of Alpay, Ali Bulaç and Mümtazer Türköne. The judgment became official two months later, when it was uploaded on UYAP (national judiciary informatics system) in December.
The Chamber held that Alpay, Ali Bulaç and Mümtazer Türköne should be charged with "aiding a terrorist organization without being its member." The files of Bulaç, Türköne, Alpay and Mehmet Özdemir were sent to Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court for a retrial.
The retrial of Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne and Mehmet Özdemir will get underway on 13 April 2021.
Third judgment by the Constitutional Court
The Constitutional Court unanimously ruled on 3 December 2020 that political scientist and former Zaman columnist Şahin Alpay’s release from prison in 2018 under house arrest violated his right to liberty and security. The Court’s judgment was published in the Official Gazette on 7 January 2021. The Court ruled that Şahin be paid TL 20,000 in compensation.
The retrial of former Zaman columnists Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç, Mümtazer Türköne and editor Mehmet Özdemir got underway on 13 April 2021 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.
Ruling in line with the requests of the three defendants and the prosecutor, the trial court unanimously decided to comply with the Supreme Court of Appeals’ reversal judgment.
The lawyers representing Alpay, Türköne and Bulaç requested a continuance to prepare their statements in response to the new accusation.
Issuing an interim ruling, the court decided to issue an arrest warrant for Özdemir, who did not attend the hearing, and rejected Türköne’s request for the lifting of the judicial control measures at this point. Also ruling to hear Hüseyin Gülerce, Binnaz Toprak, Ümit Erol and Zekeriya Tüzen as witnesses, the court set 9 September 2021 as the date for the second hearing.