Ali Ünal - Committee to Protect Journalists (2024)

Ali Ünal, a columnist and lead writer for the shuttered Turkish daily Zaman, was arrested shortly after the failed coup of 2016 and later found guilty of “founding and leading an armed terrorist organization.” In late 2018, he was sentenced to 19 years and six months in prison.

Police detained Ünal at his house in the western province of Uşak on August 14, 2016, as part of a sweeping purge of suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The government accused Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (or FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey that it blamed for orchestrating the military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

A court in Istanbul arraigned the journalist on August 16, 2016, on accusations of "being a member of an armed terrorist organization," "aiding a [terrorist] organization," and "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization.”

Two months before the coup attempt, a court ordered the government to appoint trustees to manage Feza Media Group, which formerly published Zaman, saying the company had links to FETÖ/PDY. The government then used emergency powers it assumed after the failed coup to order the newspaper closed. Police arrested dozens of former Zaman journalists on terrorism charges, citing their former employment at the newspaper as evidence.

In July 2017, the state-run Anatolia News Agency reported that prosecutors presented a 228-page indictment against Ünal to the 2nd Uşak Court of Serious Crimes, which did not specify exact charges but said authorities recognized Ünal as a leader of FETÖ and claimed he was “managing the media operations of FETÖ” to manipulate the public. The journalist faced two life sentences without the possibility of parole, plus a further 29.5 years imprisonment if convicted.

The indictment claimed Ünal was close to and in direct contact with Gülen; had traveled abroad 46 times and met with Gülen on most trips; and translated some of Gülen’s books, Anatolia reported. The indictment did not specify the time frame for the alleged travel and meetings. The indictment added that Ünal had an app called Kakoa Talk, which is similar to Bylock, the encrypted communication app that authorities claim is evidence of FETÖ membership. Ünal also had an account at Bank Asya, which the government also claims is evidence of FETÖ membership.

The first hearing of the trial was held on January 4, 2018. In his court testimony, Ünal said the only connection he had with the Fethullah Gülen community was as a columnist and translator. He said he had an account at Bank Asya because that was how he was paid for his work at Zaman. Ünal denied installing the Kakoa Talk program on his phone, denied all the charges against him, and said he was against military coups.

During a July 18, 2018, hearing, Ünal said he did not travel to the U.S. under the orders of an organization and did not have a close relationship with Gülen, reports said. “I have no activity but my writing. I am on trial for my ideas. I just wrote columns,” Ünal said at the hearing. The prosecution and their witnesses argued that Ünal was a close adviser to Gülen.

A court in Uşak on November 14, 2018, convicted Ünal of “founding and leading an armed terrorist organization” and sentenced him to 19.5 years in prison. The court acquitted the journalist of coup-related charges.

In his final statement to the court, Ünal said that he was not named as an organization leader in any other FETÖ trials, so he did not understand why he was being tried as one. He said, “I have no connections to any terrorist organizations. I started to travel to the U.S. after 1996 for translating books. I have met with Fethullah Gülen five to six times. He liked me asking questions, so I have had some meetings. I do not know anybody from the organization’s structure in the military, judiciary, or police. The prosecution accuses me of ‘attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.’ I heard of the coup on July 16, on the TV.”

Ayşe Süeda Ünal, the journalist’s niece, who is also his lawyer, told CPJ in late 2019 that a local court rejected their appeal in April 2019 without a hearing. In a phone interview in late 2021, she added that the Constitutional Court rejected their appeal over the journalist’s unjust arrest in December 2020, and the Supreme Court of Appeals rejected their appeal of his convictions in April 2021.

She said she filed another appeal to the Constitutional Court in June 2021 for violation of the right to a fair trial, which was rejected in 2022. They brought the case to the attention of the European Court of Human Rights in January 2023.

In March 2023, the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention released a report saying Ünal was wrongly imprisoned and should be released.

Ayşe Ünal told CPJ in 2020 that her uncle had been transferred to a hospital in July 2020 due to an enlarged heart and was later returned to Izmir No. 1 F-Type Prison in Izmir province’s Buca district. She added that the journalist has low hemoglobin levels and malnutrition problems due to the prolonged imprisonment.

In November 2023, Ayşe Ünal told CPJ that the 69-year-old journalist did not have any additional health problems but was experiencing difficulties in prison due to his advanced age.

CPJ’s email to the Turkish Ministry of Justice

on November 1, 2023,

did not receive any reply.

Ali Ünal - Committee to Protect Journalists (2024)
Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Terence Hammes MD

Last Updated:

Views: 5941

Rating: 4.9 / 5 (69 voted)

Reviews: 84% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Terence Hammes MD

Birthday: 1992-04-11

Address: Suite 408 9446 Mercy Mews, West Roxie, CT 04904

Phone: +50312511349175

Job: Product Consulting Liaison

Hobby: Jogging, Motor sports, Nordic skating, Jigsaw puzzles, Bird watching, Nordic skating, Sculpting

Introduction: My name is Terence Hammes MD, I am a inexpensive, energetic, jolly, faithful, cheerful, proud, rich person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.