“Antalya Media Structure” Trial

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 determined on 20 July 2016 that the military coup attempt “was initiated by FETÖ via its members within the Turkish Armed Forces.”

The structure, which was stated to have secretly organised within government agencies for years, was first described as a “terrorist organisation” by a court in 2014, and later in the recommendations of the National Security Council of 27 May 2016. The National Security Council, which formerly described the structure as an “illegal parallel structure”, named it the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation and Parallel State Structure – FETÖ-PDY” in its July memorandum.

Following the attempted coup, investigations and trials were launched, and orders for arrest and detention were issued for many individuals who were claimed to be “affiliated” with this structure. As part of these investigations, a large number of journalists and writers were placed in custody and/or detained in many provinces of Turkey due to allegations of “membership of Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ)” and “knowingly or willingly aiding the organisation despite not being a member of FETÖ”. Investigations and prosecutions were carried out during the State of Emergency (OHAL) declared soon after the attempted coup.

Zaman newspaper, Samanyolu TV, Cihan News Agency and many other newspapers, television and radio channels and internet news portals were shut down on the similar allegations by Statutory Decrees (KHK) that were put into effect without the parliament’s approval.

In this context, Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Bureau of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul launched an investigation against 89 journalists and media workers on allegations of “membership of FETÖ/PDY”. The names of people who were placed in custody and the details of the investigation were communicated through the public broadcaster Anadolu Agency, and published on the website of Sabah newspaper.

Although many journalists were detained under the same investigation in July 2016, they stood trial based on different indictments. For example, Mümtazer Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç and many other journalists stood trial as part of the “Zaman Newspaper Court Case”, whereas Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Bülent Keneş, Mehmet Kamış and many other journalists were tried within the case publicly known as the “Subliminal Coup Messages Court Case”.

Another investigation based on similar allegations commenced a week after the attempted military coup of 15 July 2016 in Antalya. The Office for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Constitutional Order of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Antalya started an investigation on journalists and some people from various occupations over allegations of being connected with the journalists on 23 July 2016.

The same day, the Governor’s Office of Antalya released a statement to Anadolu Agency, the public news agency, stating that “the Antalya Police Department organised an operation against “‘FETO’s media branch.’”

Tuncer Çetinkaya, the former Antalya Regional representative of the now-closed Zaman newspaper, Ömer Özdemir, Cihat Ünal, Özkan Mayda, correspondents for the now-closed Cihan News Agency, Kenan Baş and Osman Yakut, correspondents for the now-closed Zaman newspaper, and Olgun Matur, owner and writer of the internet news website ‘Bizim Antalya’, were detained as part of the investigation on 23 July 2016. The journalists were charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. The custody procedures lasted for three days. The journalists were remanded by the ruling of the 2nd Court of Peace of Antalya over the same charge.

Unlike other journalists, Serhat Şeftali, Antalya Regional Representative of the now-closed Cihan News Agency, was detained on 27 August 2016. Şeftali was also charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. The custody procedures lasted for nine days. He was remanded by the ruling of the 2nd Court of Peace of Antalya over the same charge on 5 September 2016.

The eight remanded journalists were taken to Antalya Type L Closed Prison.

The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Antalya started another simultaneous investigation concerning the eight journalists. The second investigation charged the journalists with “attempting to destroy the constitutional order”. However, the prosecutor’s office dropped this investigation over lack of grounds for legal action due to “the lack of evidence”.

Tuncer Çetinkaya, Ömer Özdemir, Cihat Ünal, Özkan Mayda, Kenan Baş, Osman Yakut and Ömer Özdemir spent eight months in prison awaiting the indictment concerning them to be completed. Meanwhile, Serhat Şeftali spent seven months in prison awaiting the indictment concerning him to be completed. The indictment concerning the eight journalists was completed by the Office for the Investigation of Crimes Against the Constitutional Order of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Antalya on 22 March 2017.

The indictment asserted that the journalists “were registered with Feza Gazetecilik [Feza Journalism] the media body of the FETO terrorist organisation. Feza Gazetecilik was the publishing company of the now-closed Zaman newspaper and Cihan News Agency. Another piece of information added to the indictment was the fact that Kenan Baş, a correspondent for the now-closed Cihan News Agency and Zaman Newspaper, had worked at Reuters, an international news agency, between 2000 and 2005. The indictment asserted that the journalists “engaged in media activities on behalf of the FETO/PDY terrorist organisation”.

The indictment published columns and articles were included as evidence only for the allegations concerning Olgun Matur, owner and writer of the ‘Bizim Antalya’ internet news website and Tuncer Çetinkaya, former Antalya Regional Representative of the now-closed Zaman Newspaper.

The indictment listed Matur‘s articles published on the ‘Bizim Antalya’ internet news website in March 2014, November 2015 and April 2016 in full text. It was asserted that Matur “wrote articles and published news items in favour of the FETO/PDY”. Meanwhile, it was stated that Çetinkaya wrote news items and articles on the ‘Bizim Antalya’ internet news website. He was charged with “reporting news on the media outlets of the FETO terrorist organisation”.

Other than the articles cited above, the charges against the journalists were based on their social media outputs, allegations of “using the ByLock application”, which was found in many court rulings to be “used by FETO members for instant communication among themselves”, and evidence such as DVDs, books and magazines confiscated during custody procedures. The fact that the journalists working at the same newspaper and agency were “in contact with each other” was cited as evidence for the charges concerning them.

The indictment charged the eight journalists with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law. The prosecution demanded that the journalists be sentenced to imprisonment of between seven years and six months and 15 years. The indictment concerning the eight journalists was accepted by the 2nd High Penal Court of Antalya on 29 March 2017.

Journalists Cihat Ünal, Ömer Özdemir and Kenan Baş were released pending trial after the indictment was completed.

Journalists Tuncer Çetinkaya and Olgun Matur were also released pending trial after the indictment was completed. However, the prosecutor’s office objected to the release order for Çetinkaya and Matur. The two journalists were remanded again on 1 April 2017. Journalist Serhat Şeftali was one of the journalists who were released after the indictment was accepted. The prosecutor’s office also objected to the release order concerning Şeftali. The arrest warrant issued concerning Şeftali was not fulfilled. The court that accepted the indictment ruled that the imprisonment of Özkan Mayda and Osman Yakut should continue, unlike the other journalists.

The trial concerning the journalists started with the first hearing held at the 2nd High Penal Court of Antalya on 11 April 2017.

Journalist Ömer Özdemir was one of the journalists who were released after the indictment was accepted. However, Özdemir was remanded once again at the first hearing of the trial held on 11 April 2017, based on a report which was presented to the court a day before the hearing and included the allegation that Özdemir “had used the ByLock application”. Özdemir was once again released pending trial at the third hearing of the trial held on 6 October 2017.

Journalist Serhat Şeftali was one of the journalists who were released after the indictment was accepted. The prosecutor objected to the release order concerning Şeftali along with other journalists. The court ruled that Şeftali be remanded again. However, Şeftali attended the first hearing of the trial held on 11 April 2017 with his attorney. The court ruled that Şeftali be remanded at the end of the first hearing. Şeftali was once again released at the fifth hearing of the trial held on 1 February 2018. Osman Yakut was also released pending trial with Şeftali in the same hearing.

Olgun Matur and Özkan Mayda were released pending trial at the second hearing of the trial held on 24 May 2017.

During the entire trial process, all journalists who were released pending trial with court rulings were banned from travelling abroad. The panel of judges changed many times during the trial process.

The Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Antalya presented the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations at the hearing of the trial held on 8 December 2017. The opinion of the prosecution, in keeping with the indictment, charged the eight journalists with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law. The prosecution demanded that the eight journalists be sentenced to imprisonment of between seven years and six months and 15 years, once again in keeping with the indictment.

The court announced its ruling at the sixth hearing of the trial held on 24 April 2018. The court ruled that journalist Tuncer Çetinkaya be sentenced to imprisonment of seven years and six months on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. Çetinkaya was after the ruling on grounds of poor health and to be tried without remand. The court ruled that the file concerning other the seven journalists be separated. It was decided that the trial would continue to be run by the same court with a different case number.

The seventh hearing of the trial, which was the first hearing after the cases were separated, was held on 12 October 2018. The panel of judges was observed to have changed completely this time.

Meanwhile, the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Antalya started an investigation on Hasan Yavaşlar, the editor of Antalya’s first local newspaper Antalya Gazetesi, which was shut down after the attempted military coup on 15 July 2016, and Ali Orhan, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief. The investigation concerning the two journalists commenced upon the complaint of the owner of another local newspaper published in Antalya. Yavaşlar and Orhan were not detained over the investigation concerning them.

The indictment concerning these two journalists was completed on 24 October 2018. The indictment included the full text of the complaint from H.Ö., owner of another newspaper published in Antalya, against the two journalists. H.Ö. asserted that “Antalya Gazetesi where Yavaşlar and Orhan had worked printed pages that were prepared at the now-closed Zaman newspaper”. H.Ö. said: “They conducted an interview with N.A., FETO’s Antalya strongbox and one of the leading figures, and they published it in the newspaper”. Stating that investigations had commenced and cases were filed on the people whom he mentioned in his complaint and statement, H.Ö. said: “However, no procedures were launched to my knowledge concerning these two journalists That why I decided to file a criminal complaint.”

The indictment charged Yavaşlar and Orhan with “knowingly and willingly aiding the armed terrorist organisation despite not being a party of its hierarchical structure” in accordance with Articles 220/7 and 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law. The prosecution demanded that the two journalists be sentenced to imprisonment of between seven years and six months and 15 years. However, the indictment asserted that the crime had been “committed consecutively”. Therefore, the prosecution demanded that the sentence be increased by between a quarter and three quarters in accordance with Article 43 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that the two journalists be sentenced to imprisonment of between 10 years, two months and 15 days and 26 years and three months.

The trial concerning Yavaşlar and Orhan started with the first hearing held at the 8th High Penal Court of Antalya on 18 June 2019. The owner of Antalya Express newspaper H.Ö., who filed the complaint against the journalists, was listened as a witness at the hearing. During the hearing of the trial held on 24 October 2019, it was decided that the case file concerning Yavaşlar and Orhan be merged with the ongoing case file concerning the eight journalists.

A series of notable developments took place during the trial process.

Before the fourth hearing of the trial held on 8 December 2017, another document was added to the file concerning Osman Yakut, who was then being tried in remand. The court announced that records of Yakut’s meetings with his spouse during non-contact visits while he was imprisoned had been added to the file. Local press in Antalya reported in the inclusion of the new document before the hearing. The news reports stated that “records of private meetings Yakut had with his spouse during non-contact visits during Yakut’s time in prison were now a part of the case file”, while Yakut’s attorney Münip Ermiş said: “This is not routine procedure. In addition, no justification was given for adding the conversation to the case file. This is because of OHAL (state of emergency); it is the first time I’ve seen such a thing happen in my 32 years of professional life”.

In addition, H.Ö., who was heard as a witness at the hearing and initially filed the criminal complaint against the journalists, was detained at the hearing in which the court ruled that the trial case concerning Hasan Yavaşlar and Ali Orhan be merged with the main file. The court found that H.Ö. was making an audio recording in the courtroom. The panel of judges ruled that police officers be informed for H.Ö. to be detained. H.Ö. was detained by the police in the courtroom and referred to the prosecutor’s office.

The twelfth hearing of the trial concerning the 10 journalists who worked in Antalya was held on 25 September 2020 with addition of the new case after the cases were merged. The court ruled that the case concerning the 10 journalists be sent to the prosecutor’s office for the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations to be prepared.

The court ruled that the trial be continued with the 13th hearing to be held on 12 January 2021.

The Constitutional Court Process

The two journalists, who stood trial in the court case which was initially opened concerning eight journalists and to which the trial case concerning the two journalists was added, filed a complaint with the Constitutional Court over the violation of rights.

Cihat Ünal, Antalya correspondent for the now-closed Cihan News Agency, applied to the Constitutional Court on 11 November 2016 after being remanded. In his complaint, Ünal asserted that “the arrest warrant was not lawful”, “the detention period exceeded reasonable time” and “his access to the investigation file had been restricted”. On these grounds Ünal demanded the court to find that “his rights to personal freedom and security had been violated”. In addition, he demanded the court to find that “the freedom of expression and media had been violated”. When the Constitutional Court started examining his application, the trial concerning Ünal was underway and Ünal was not in remand. The court ruled on his case on 28 November 2018 as the trial concerning Ünal was underway. The Constitutional Court rejected all of Ünal’s demands. The decision was unanimous.

Kenan Baş, a correspondent for the now-closed Zaman newspaper and Cihan News Agency, applied to the Constitutional Court on 17 March 2017, a short while before the indictment concerning him was completed. In his complaint, Baş asserted that “the arrest warrant was not lawful” and “the detention period exceeded reasonable time”. Won these grounds Baş demanded the court to find that “his rights to personal freedom and security had been violated”. In addition, he demanded the court to find that “the freedom of expression and media had been violated”. When the Constitutional Court started examining his application, the trial concerning Kenan Baş was underway and Baş was not in remand. The court ruled on his case on 29 November 2018 as the trial concerning Baş was underway. The Constitutional Court rejected all of Baş’s demands. The decision was unanimous.

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