Dumanlı was detained for four days before being interrogated for seven hours at the İstanbul Police Department by Prosecutor Fuzuli Aydoğdu. He was charged with "establishing and administrating an armed organization" under anti-terrorism legislation based on two op-ed pieces and one article published in his newspaper five years ago. Dumanlı was released on Friday, while Samanyolu TV General Manager Hidayet Karaca, who was also taken into custody on Dec. 14 has, along with three police chiefs, been arrested.
Dumanlı gave a historic defense to the court on Thursday. According to details acquired from his lawyers, Dumanlı asked Judge Bekir Altun about the evidence against him. Altun, who said he would elaborate on the evidence, only listed one news report and two columns published in April of 2009.
After the judge's response, Dumanlı emphasized that the judiciary should not be an instrument for political operations, adding, “No one can explain to the world the fact that I was detained for just one report and two columns.”
Giving details about the court process, Dumanlı's lawyer Hasan Günaydın said Dumanlı had asked the judge what the crimes directed at him are. “When the judge pointed to two columns and one report, Dumanlı asked the judge ‘Mr. judge, I am asking once again: Is the only evidence in the investigation one report and two columns?' When the judge said ‘yes,' Dumanlı turned to us [his lawyers] and said if the accusations are just based on two columns and one report, I want to make my defense myself [instead of the lawyers].”
Describing the accusations as “rubbish,” Dumanlı continued: “What do these [columns] have to do with me? They were written by Ahmet Şahin and Hüseyin Gülerce. A speech by [Turkish Islamic scholar] Fethullah Gülen, which was open to the public on the website “Herkul.org,” was published on the third page of the Zaman daily. That is all. How is it that I am associated with an armed terrorist organization that doesn't even exist? What sort of nonsense is it?” Dumanlı also referred to a column by [Hürriyet daily columnist] Ertuğrul Özkök about the Tahşiyeciler group and said, “If writing about this group consists a crime, then Özkök should also testify in this case.”
Judge Bekir Altun denied the prosecutor's request to arrest Dumanlı following his testimony. He made the following statement about his decision: “Because at this point there is no concrete evidence which would require the arrest of Ekrem Dumanlı committing the crime which he has been accused of, the judicial control decisions will be sufficient, and an arrest will not be appropriate. The İstanbul Cumhuriyet Chief Prosecutor's Office will thus deny the request for an arrest.”
Dumanlı also denied accusations that he had defamed suspected members of an al-Qaeda-affiliated group known as Tahşiyeciler (Annotators), whose leaders' complaint was the basis of the politically orchestrated crackdown on the media. He said that he had not even heard of the name of this organization prior to the operation.
Despite the court's decision to release Dumanlı, Karaca was arrested on the grounds of alleged membership of a terrorist group. The only evidence for this is the script of a soap opera which was broadcast several years ago by Samanyolu TV. This is perhaps the first time in history that a TV manager has been imprisoned for airing a soap opera.
Dumanlı addresses Zaman staff after release
Dumanlı's colleagues at Zaman greeted him with cheers when he arrived at the newspaper's headquarters on Saturday. He made a short speech to Zaman staff, saying that if he had given any answers to the prosecutor's questions which would have embarrassed the newspaper, then he would not have returned to his workplace.
Some Zaman staff members held placards reading "Welcome home, Ekrem," "Free media cannot be silenced" and "God save Hidayet Karaca."
In his speech, Dumanlı first thanked all those who had shown their support during the difficult period that he and the other detainees had experienced and for supporting democracy, adding: "Such operations and raids cannot frighten us. Turkey already knows the meaning of terrorism. It is a direct insult to those who could not hurt a fly and obey the law and justice, as well being a grave blow to the freedom of the press. Those who think that we will be frightened by such raids should have realized that we will not be afraid. They might even engage in worse operations in the future, but they should know that we will not be frightened at all."
"When I was detained [on Friday], my friends cheered me as they said goodbye. When I left the building, I was not saddened by the accusations, but seeing some of my friends cry brought a lump to my throat. … There is nothing that I have done that I cannot account for before the courts, judges and prosecutors. But those who have accused innocent people of being terrorists will one day be called to account. Those who think that politics consists of insulting innocent people in speeches, those who twist democracy in line with their interests and those who … trample on the principle of the rule of law will one day be brought to justice," Dumanlı continued.
He further stated his praise for those who showed solidarity with the detainees in front of the İstanbul Courthouse and the İstanbul Police Department. "People throughout history have fought for their democratic rights. They upheld freedoms while not harming anyone, including the environment … I would like to thank everyone in Turkey, Europe and the US who took to the streets to show solidarity with the press under the slogan "Free media cannot be silenced," the Zaman editor-in-chief said.
Dumanlı also thanked veteran journalists Hasan Cemal, Cengiz Çanar, Nuray Mert, Can Dündar, Pınar Türenç and all those who have supported a campaign calling for the release of the detained journalists.
The Dec. 14 operation will be remembered as a government-led retribution operation targeting critical members of the media and an effort to silence the press outlets which have reported on the government's involvement in corruption.
Samanyolu's Karaca challenges arrest in court
A recently released video record of the court hearing in which Karaca was arrested shows the TV executive challenging the decision to arrest him with a manifesto-like statement. The STV general manager was arrested on Friday on suspicion of membership of a terrorist group, based on a TV series that was broadcast years ago. Karaca was arrested along with former police officers.
Karaca's statement is as follows:
“If it is possible to detain people because a soap opera, then this is a show trial. The most important thing in our country is the preservation of democracy. This was an expected decision. We were not expecting to see justice here. What is important is that your [the government's] prayers are with us. I hope God will bring this to a positive conclusion.Published on Sunday's Zaman, 21 December 2014, Sunday
This event will go down in history. Those who handed down this ruling were unable to produce a single piece of evidence. Your Honor, where is the evidence?
[Judge interferes] Your Honor, please let me finish. This is a court. Where are the weapons? Where is the [evidence of] management of a terrorist group?
If this [my arrest] happens because of a soap opera, those who hand down this ruling will sit where I am sitting now. Posterity will be witness to this. Please, for God's sake, do not worry and continue to work. Work for democracy. Goodbye."