December 21, 2015

Court to hold first hearing in controversial Tahşiyeciler case on Tuesday

The first hearing of a case in which dozens of suspects, including journalists, are facing charges of membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly framing the al-Qaeda-affiliated group Tahşiyeciler will be held in İstanbul's Silivri Prison complex on Tuesday.

Almost half of the suspects, one of whom is Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca, are journalists or other media professionals and have been accused of targeting and framing the radical group Tahşiyeciler and its leader Mehmet Doğan, who has publicly praised al-Qaeda's slain former leader Osama bin Laden.

On Oct. 2, the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment against Tahşiyeciler -- an extremist group alleged to have links with al-Qaeda -- prepared by Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz. The indictment names 33 suspects, 15 of whom are currently under arrest, including Karaca. The court then ruled for the release of former Police Chiefs Tufan Ergüder, Kazım Aksoy, Yasin Koyuncu, Selçuk Ocaktan and Ufuk Yıldırım.

The 332-page indictment seeks up to 34 years in prison for Turkish Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen on charges of "forming and leading an armed organization," while Karaca is accused of "membership in a terrorist organization" and faces up to 27 years in prison. However, the indictment fails to provide any evidence to show that Gülen or the other suspects either possess arms or have been involved in terrorist activity.

How did the events develop?

In an operation on Dec. 14, 2014, former Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Karaca and a number of soap opera scriptwriters and police officers were detained on charges of terrorism and membership in an organization that conspired against Tahşiyeciler, based on a speech by Gülen in 2009 in which the scholar warned against a group that "might" be called Tahşiyeciler and whose leader, Mehmet Doğan, had publicly praised Osama bin Laden.

The prosecutors who ordered the Dec. 14 detentions claim that following Gülen's speech, Dumanlı ordered two columnists to write about Tahşiyeciler and that he published a news report on the speech. The allegations also claim that Samanyolu TV made implications about the group in an episode of a soap opera it broadcast. It is further claimed that the police then “unfairly” raided the group.

Dumanlı's name was not present in the prepared indictment, meaning that the prosecutors did not find any concrete evidence to be able to bring charges against the Zaman daily's former editor-in-chief, who was among those detained on Dec. 14 of last year as part of a government-initiated media crackdown in which the police raided the daily's headquarters.

Gülen, who preaches a moderate version of Islam, is the inspiration behind the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement, a grassroots initiative that works to promote science education and interfaith dialogue.

Yılmaz, the prosecutor who prepared the indictment, ignored previous reports by police intelligence, military intelligence and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT), all of which described Tahşiyeciler as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda. After his failure to acquire any concrete evidence against the suspects in the Tahşiyeciler case, the prosecutor included other information from unrelated court cases to try to portray the suspects as guilty. Information related to the case of MİT trucks that were stopped en route to Syria, to where they were allegedly carrying an illegal arms shipment, and investigations into the Iran-backed Tawhid-Salam terrorist organization was also presented in the indictment as evidence against the suspects.

The prosecutor said in the indictment that “the instruction to stop the MİT trucks came from Fethullah Gülen and Emre Uslu,” even though there is no such claim in the indictment related to the MİT trucks case. The prosecutor has been unable to provide evidence to ask the United States to extradite Gülen, who resides in a rural town in Pennsylvania.

In January 2014, gendarmes stopped Syria-bound trucks in the southern provinces of Adana and Hatay after prosecutors received tip-offs that the vehicles were illegally carrying arms to Syria. The weapons were allegedly intended for extremist groups in Syria. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government claimed at the time that the trucks were transporting humanitarian aid to Turkmens in Syria and branded the interception an act of “treason and espionage.”

The Zaman daily and the Samanyolu Broadcasting Group are both sympathetic to the Hizmet movement, which has been accused of attempting to oust the government through sweeping graft probes that went public in December 2013 and implicated numerous high-profile individuals.

The government is yet to provide solid evidence for its claims.

Published on Today's Zaman, 21 December 2015, Monday