In August 2019, Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation against the news web sites Diken, T24 and Sputnik, and the newspaper Birgün, for reporting on the posts by the anonymous Twitter account “Fuat Avni”.
From February 2014 until July 2016, when the tension between “Fetullah Gülen sect” and Justice and Development Party was escalating, the Twitter account “Fuat Avni” had set the agenda in Turkey with tweets based on insider information from within the government, judiciary system and police. Access to the Twitter account was blocked by a court order, however, the account was reopened under different names. Lawsuits were brought against numerous individuals for allegedly managing the account.
The investigation concerned Harun Simavi, the founder of the news web site Diken and the chairman of the related publishing company, Erdal Güven, the editor-in-chief of the web site, and Semin Sezerer, its managing editor, as well as editors who worked there between the years 2014-2016.
The editors and directors of the web sites Diken and T24 were summoned to testify at Istanbul Police Department’s Anti-Terror Branch. The journalists were accused for reporting on the posts published by “Fuat Avni” from August 2014 until October 2015.
During his interrogation at the prosecutor’s office, Harun Simavi, the founder of the news web site Diken and the chairman of the related publishing company said that “as the chairman, he is not directly involved in the news web site’s content, he is responsible for administrative and financial affairs, he does not interfere with the news content, and all legal responsibility lies with the editor-in-chief.” Simavi added that news stories about “Fuat Avni’ fall within the scope of the freedom of press. He also indicated that “As the member of a family engaged in journalism for over a century, I would never even think of penning news stories upon instructions from any group, party, legal or illegal organization”.
According to the indictment, during the interrogation at the prosecutor’s office, the editor-in-chief Erdal Güven said, “We did not receive instructions from anyone or any organization to report on Fuat Avni’s posts.” He indicated that during the period in question, Fuat Avni’s posts set the agenda of the country and of politicians. He added that Diken published these news stories to uphold “the society’s right to access information, and the freedoms of press and expression”.
The then managing editor of the web site, Semin Sezerer indicated that the posts from the social media account “Fuat Avni” marked the political agenda, and that their news stories covered not only this account’s posts, but also politicians’ statements on the issue. She stated that they report on all newsworthy social media posts.
At the end of the investigation, a decision of non-prosecution was reached for Diken’s editors Ufuk Çalışkan, Burak Şahin, Ayşe Beril Köseoğlu, Nur Banu Kocaarslan, Emrah Temizkan, Taylan Polat and İpek Hazal Boztepe. No indictment was drafted against these journalists, due to “lack of legal grounds for action.”
An indictment was drafted on December 17th, 2019 -four years after the publication of these news stories- against the aforementioned Diken managers. Another indictment was drafted against T24 news web site’s editor-in-chief Doğan Akın, on November 7th, 2019.
The prologues of these two indictments were the same. The investigation against Akın and the T24 editors, and that against the managers of “Diken” were launched around the same time, in August 2019.
In the indictment, Semin Sezerer, the then managing editor of the news web site Diken is accused for 226 news stories concerning the social media account “Fuat Avni”. T24 news web site’s editor-in-chief Doğan Akın is accused for 108 news stories of the same nature.
The indictment listed 8 news stories published on Diken between August 2014 and October 2015, covering the claims made on the social media account “Fuat Avni”. The indictment listed the titles and content of these stories in the following manner:
. “Fuat Avni claims an operation will be launched on the anniversary of the December 17th/25th corruption probe: Here’s the list of names…” “The Twitter account Fuat Avni had previously published posts about a possible police operation against Fethullah Gülen Sect, sending many people scurrying to the İstanbul Courthouse and Zaman newspaper, and has now claimed that numerous people would be detained on the anniversary of the December 17th/25th corruption probe.”
. “fuatavni appealed this time to those who remain silent: ‘I have seen the file that the Tyrant drafts against you … Oh, those who remain silent! They will organize an operation against you to force you out of the holes where you hide’…”
. “‘fuatavni’ stated on a Twitter post, ‘I am not a follower of Gülen’s. I am no Gülenist. I do not act under his instructions’, adding that he stood against all oppression and that he would likewise write about anyone oppressed by President Erdoğan, whom he calls the ‘Tyrant’.”
. “Fuat Avni had it right again: An appeal has indeed been filed against Ekrem Dumanlı’s release, six days on.”
Remarkably, some of these posts concerning claims by “Fuat Avni” and added to this indictment as criminal evidence, were also cited in the indictment against T24’s editor-in-chief, Doğan Akın.
The indictment claimed that “tweets sent from the organization’s black propaganda account ‘Fuat Avni’ and its derivatives to serve the purposes of the organization were directly published on the web site ‘diken com tr’, without any prior attempt at confirmation”.
The prosecutor claimed that these “news stories enhanced the popularity of the account used by the organization for black propaganda. They alleged that public prosecutors acted upon instructions. Plans for upcoming police operations, the individuals to be detained, the names of the public prosecutors involved in these operations, and claims about the country’s links to terror organizations were published”.
It is claimed that the Diken web site “served the purposes of the organization by reporting on social media posts which insult the President, violate privacy, and target state officials”.
In addition, the indictment cites Erdal Güven and Semin Sezerer’s messages on their personal social media accounts.
On the other hand, the indictment states that Simavi, Güven and Sezerer do not use the application Bylock, allegedly employed by “FETÖ members for communication”, “are not members of associations connected to FETÖ,” “have not opened bank accounts at Bank Asya upon the instruction of the organization’s leader, and there are no sudden increases in their bank accounts,” “do not have records in companies with links to FETÖ” and “have no ties to the senior leaders of FETÖ”.
Nonetheless, the indictments charges the journalists with “knowingly and willingly aiding and abetting an armed terror organization without beings its member” as per Turkish Penal Code, Articles 220/7 and 314/2, and Anti-Terror Law, Article 5. They each face seven years six months to 15 years of imprisonment.
Interestingly, the indictment states, “it is up to the court to decide whether wrongful intention exists in the case”.
On the same dates, separate investigations were brought against T24’s editor-in-chief Doğan Akın and BirGün newspaper’s editors Barış İnce and Can Uğur, and the same prosecutor from İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office drafted similar indictments featuring the same charges against them, requesting prison sentences. Of these journalists, Doğan Akın has been acquitted at the end of his trial. Can Uğur and Barış İnce continue to stand trial.
First hearing was set to be held on April 7, 2020 at Istanbul 22nd Assize Court. However the hearing was adjourned due to the measures taken against coronavirus pandemic.
Second hearing of the case was held on September 3, 2020. Erdal Given said “I am a journalist of 30 years. I have enough professional experience to see the difference between “news” and “propaganda”.
Semi Severer said, “We made these news without digressing from journalism and with a careful language. It is an insult to people like us, who consider themselves contrarian in their professional and personal lives, to be accused of aiding FETÖ. The inspection will show that I have no connection to any congregations or cults.”
Harun Simavi said, The only issue we pick sides in is universal human rights. In that regard, as the founder of Diken webpage, I would like to state that in order to maintain a impartial and independent journalistic values I have no interference, with Diken’s publishing policies or editorially in any way.”
Journalists’ attorney Sevgi Kalan “We saw that Sabah Daily made 2 thousand 870 news regarding ‘Fuat Avni’ tweets. If those who make these news are not being tried, so should my clients.”
Prosecutor of the case presented his opinion as to the accusations at this hearing. In the opinion, prosecutor requested the journalists to be acquitted. It was noteworthy that the opinion, regarding the subject matter articles; said “actions that the suspects are being charged must be considered as acts of journalism.”
Court ruled to acquit Harun Simavi, Erdal Güven and Semin Severer. The decision was based on the reasoning that “accusations against journalists were not defined as crime in the law.”
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