December 22, 2015

Indictment with no solid evidence marks first hearing in Tahşiyeciler trial

Lawyers representing dozens of suspects, including media members who face charges of membership in a terrorist organization for allegedly conspiring against an Al-Qaeda-affiliated group, have stated that the case constitutes “a violation of the Constitution” and demanded an end to the court proceedings on the grounds that suspects were being tried without any legitimate evidence regarding any crime in the indictment.

The first hearing in the case -- with journalists and media professionals, including Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca, making up almost half of the suspects -- in which the suspects are accused of targeting and conspiring against the radical group Tahşiyeciler and its leader Mehmet Doğan, was held at the İstanbul Çağlayan Courthouse on Tuesday.

During the hearing Aynur Tuncel Yazgan, an attorney representing Karaca, objected to the indictment that was prepared by prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz and accepted by the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court on Oct. 2, saying the fact that Karaca was declared a suspect in every count contained within the indictment is “reminiscent of the days of Nazi Germany.”

Yazgan also stated that the prosecutor failed to acquire any concrete evidence against Karaca and that he should therefore be released immediately.

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.

Yılmaz, the prosecutor who prepared the indictment, ignored several previous reports by police and 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 secure 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 allegedly carrying an illegal arms shipment and were stopped en route to Syria, and investigations into the Iran-backed Tawhid-Salam terrorist organization were also presented in the indictment as evidence against the suspects.

The prosecutor said in the indictment, “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.”

Another lawyer, Doğan Akkurt, stated that the 32nd Criminal Court of First Instance already ruled to release Karaca and police chiefs on April 25, and therefore demanded the acknowledgement of the court order release of his clients.

MİT: Doğan praised Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda

The court announced that a report prepared by MİT regarding the activities of the Tahşiyeciler group and its leader Doğan is included in the indictment.

In the report it was stated that MİT detected Doğan “publicly” praising the radical Islamist terrorist organization al-Qaeda's slain leader Osama bin Laden.

Indeed, footage seized during an operation against al-Qaeda on Jan. 22, 2010, was aired on the CNN Türk network and in it Doğan can be heard saying that the head of the Turkish government and the head of the religious authority are foreigners and should be killed in an armed attack.

“I'm saying, go and build arms and kill [them]," he said in the video. "If the sword is not used, then this is not Islam."

Moreover, in a live interview with CNN Türk last year, Doğan stated that he “loves Osama bin Laden because he is a devoted Muslim.”

In the report sent to the court, it was also stated that MİT has been carrying out research on the Tahşiyeler group.

“In his books and articles, Doğan states that Osama bin Laden, who he calls Suayb Bun Salih, is Mahdi's commander and al-Qaeda is the army of Mahdi,” the MİT report stated.

The court refused to give out any further information regarding the MİT report, saying that copies of it will be given to the press in the coming days.

How did events develop?

In an operation on Dec. 14, 2014, former Zaman Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı, Karaca and a number of soap opera scriptwriters as well as 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 (Doğan) had publicly praised 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 that it had broadcast. It is further claimed that the police then “unfairly” raided the group.

Dumanlı's name did not appear 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 the 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.

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.

Published on Today's Zaman, 22 December 2015, Tuesday