The Republic of Turkey held the structure known as the Fethullah Gülen Congregation responsible for the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. On 20 July 2016, the National Security Council determined that the military coup attempt “was initiated by FETÖ through 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 similar allegations by Statutory Decrees (KHK) that were put into effect without parliament’s approval.
Harun Çümen, editor-in-chief for the now closed Zaman newspaper, was one of the defendants under investigation on allegations of “being a member of FETÖ.” He was detained during a road check carried out by the Edirne Keşan District Police Department on 4 March 2018 within the scope of an investigation commenced by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
According to the indictment, Çümen stated the following in his defensive statement taken by the Keşan Joint Department for Anti-Smuggling and Organised Crime on 6 March 2018:
“I did not participate in meetings called sohbet held in houses or dormitories that belong to FETÖ/PDY. However, I attended some meetings held at my workplace, because I was working at Zaman newspaper. During these meetings, I did not witness any speeches to the detriment of the government and statespeople and did not give any such speech. I realised this organisation was an illegal structure only after the coup attempt of 15 July.”
Custody procedures lasted for three days. On 7 March 2018, Çümen was detained on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. He was then taken to the Kepsut Closed Security Prison in Balıkesir.
He spent seven months in prison as he awaited the indictment concerning him to be completed.
The indictment stated that the road check in which Çümen was detained was carried out on concerns that “individuals facing legal action on the charges of membership of an armed terrorist organisation were preparing forged documents through illegal means and trying to illegally flee the country through customs gates”.
The indictment listed telephone conversations between Çümen and an individual who was claimed to be “a top administrator of the organisation”. It was asserted that Çümen had a total of four conversations with A.A. The indictment stated that the conversations lasted for “110 seconds to 238 seconds”.
The indictment asserted that Çümen had a deposit account with active movements with Bank Asya, which was claimed to be “the FETÖ financial institution”. In addition, the indictment asserted that Çümen was “affiliated with FETÖ” and was a member of the Pak Medya-İş Union, which was closed down by a State of Emergency Statuary Decree.
The indictment dated 1 October 2018 charged Çümen with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 5 of the Law on Anti-Terrorism. The prosecution demanded that Çümen be sentenced to imprisonment of between seven years and six months and 15 years.
The trial started with the first hearing at the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 8 January 2019. Çümen had been in custody for 10 months when he first stood trial.
Harun Çümen attended the hearing through the Audio-Visual Information System (SEGBİS) from the Kepsut Closed Prison in Balıkesir where he was remanded during the trial. He stated that he had worked at the Zaman newspaper for 21 years and was “then ‘thrown into the pan’ by being promoted to editor-in-chief”.
The second hearing of the trial took place on 28 March 2019. Çümen demanded his release pending trial taking into account the date he was detained by stating that he had been under custody for 390 days, there were no anonymous witness statements against him and no criminal elements were discovered during the investigation of digital material. The panel of judges ruled that Harun Çümen be remanded in custody.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 19 June 2019. Çümen was once more remanded in custody at this hearing.
The fourth and final hearing of the trial took place on 18 July 2019. The court sentenced Çümen to seven years, six months of imprisonment on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. The court also ruled that Çümen should remain in custody.
The Appeals Process
Harun Çümen’s attorneys launched an appeal against the imprisonment sentence at the court of appeals. The court of appeals examination of the ruling is underway.
Çümen has been serving his prison sentence at Balıkesir Closed Security Prison since 7 March 2018.
Press in Arrest is a database, monitoring, documentation and collective memory study of Press Research Association.
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