The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul launched an investigation concerning Kazım Güleçyüz, the editor-in-chief of Yeni Asya newspaper, and Halil İbrahim Özdabak, a cartoonist for the same newspaper, in October 2018.
The investigation was based on the “reports to the authorities” received by the prosecutor. The “reports” asserted that Güleçyüz and Özdabak “had been engaged in propaganda in a way that legitimises the acts of the FETÖ armed terrorist organisation and to make individuals against whom legal actions were taken on allegations of administration or membership of the organisation seem innocent ”.
The Republic of Turkey held the structure known as the Fethullah Gülen Congregation responsible for the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. The National Security Council declared that the structure was a terrorist organisation in an advisory decision in May 2016. The National Security Council, which formerly described the structure as an “illegal parallel structure”, named it as “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation and Parallel State Structure – FETÖ-PDY” in its July memorandum.
Yeni Asya Newspaper began publishing in 1970. The newspaper adopted a critical attitude towards the State of Emergency practices that were put into effect following the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. The newspaper also supported the “no” vote in the 16 April 2017 referendum which approved a change of the regime in Turkey from the parliamentary system to the “Presidential Government System”, also known as the “Presidential System”.
Before the investigation, on 19 July 2018 Takvim newspaper published an article on its website with the heading “Crypto-FETÖ newspaper cannot get enough of lies and slander”. The piece asserted that “Yeni Asya Newspaper is overtly propagandising for the organisation since 15 July”. It was stated that “the newspaper is trying to change perceptions using children, and is fabricating all sorts of lies for the release of the members of the organisation from prison”. The report stated that “it makes no sense that Yeni Asya is left out of the FETÖ investigations, even though evidence of its connection with the Fetullah terrorist organisation (FETÖ) has been revealed since 15 July”. Around the same time, Sabah newspaper also published a similar piece.
Upon the received “reports”, the Istanbul Directorate of Security started investigating Kazım Güleçyüz’s social media output and Yeni Asya Newspaper’s published volumes dating from 1 January 2014.
Güleçyüz and Özdabak were not detained as part of the investigation. The journalists were summoned to the prosecutor’s office to give a statement.
Güleçyüz stated that the accusations were unfounded considering the general publishing policy of Yeni Asya newspaper. He stated that “his aim had been to warn and criticise so the FETÖ investigations would not lead to victimisation”.
Özdabak stated that “with his political cartoons after the coup attempt of 15 July he had relayed problems that little children and babies in prison with their mothers faced”. He stated that “prison was no place for children and another solution was needed”.
The indictment concerning the journalists was completed by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul on 7 December 2018.
The indictment charged Güleçyüz over 14 social media outputs as well as newspaper reports and political cartoons that criticised developments following the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016.
Özdabak was charged over 18 political cartoons that were published in Yeni Asya Newspaper. Political cartoons depicted “the closure of Samanyolu TV”, “a detained mother losing her twins”, “a discharged woman prosecutor cleaning houses” and “a mother being referred from the hospital to the courthouse with her day-old baby”.
The trial of the journalists commenced with the first hearing on 2 May 2019.
Güleçyüz stated that he had been in the publishing for 41 years, and had been an active journalist for 27 years. He stated that he had defended the law, justice, democracy, rights and freedoms and peace while standing firmly against coups and acts of terror in all of his written work, books and speeches. Güleçyüz stated that the indictment charged him with the exact opposite of his stance. He denied the charges. The hearing was adjourned for the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations to be prepared.
The second hearing of the trial took place on 24 September 2019. Güleçyüz stated that the social media outputs included in the indictment had been taken out of context and he had not propagandised for the organisation in any way.
Attorney Mustafa Özbek demanded additional time from the court in order to prepare statements against the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations.
The 3rd hearing of the trial took place on 23 January 2020. The panel of judges changed twice over the three hearings of the trial.
Halil İbrahim Özdabak gave his defensive statement against the opinion of the prosecution. Özdabak demanded his acquittal, stating that he had been drawing political cartoons and he was not affiliated with any organisations.
Kazım Güleçyüz stated that he was not affiliated with any organisations, and he was only a journalist. Güleçyüz stated the following: “I have never propagandised for any organisation. I demand my acquittal. I reject the opinion of the prosecution.”
Özdabak and Güleçyüz stated that if found guilty, they would not demand the deferment of the announcement of the verdict or the postponement of the sentence.
When asked about their final say, Özdabak and Güleçyüz demanded their acquittal.
The indictment charged Özdabak and Güleçyüz with “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda”. However, the court charged the journalists with “consecutive terrorist organisation propaganda by means of the media”.
The prosecution demanded that Kazım Güleçyüz be sentenced to imprisonment of one year, eight months, and Halil İbrahim Özdabak be sentenced to imprisonment of one year, six months, 22 days.
The panel of judges ruled that there was no need to defer the announcement of the verdict or to postpone the prison sentence.
The Appeals Process
The attorneys launched an appeal against the ruling immediately afterwards with the Istanbul Circuit Courts of Appeals. The court of appeals’ investigation concerning the ruling is on-going.
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