After the coup attempt of July 15, numerous journalists working at different media outlets were taken into custody for alleged links to “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization - Parallel State Structure /FETÖ-PDY”.
The names of those who would be detained were first published by media outlets close to the government. The first detentions took place on July 27, 2016.
Here are the individuals first taken into custody during the investigation:
Osman Nuri Öztürk, Ali Akbulut, Bülent Keneş, Mehmet Kamış, Hüseyin Döğme, Süleyman Sargın, Veysel Ayhan, Şeref Yılmaz, Mehmet Akif Afşar, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Alaattin Güner, Faruk Kardıç, Metin Tamer Gökçeoğlu, Faruk Akkan, Mümtazer Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Sevgi Akarçeşme, Ali Ünal, Mustafa Ünal, Zeki Önal, Hilmi Yavuz, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Lalezar Sarıibrahimoğlu, Ali Bulaç, Bülent Korucu, İhsan Duran Dağı, Nuriye Ural, Hamit Çiçek, Adil Gülçek, Hamit Bilici, Şenol Kahraman, Melih Kılıç, Nevzat Güner, Mehmet Özdemir, Fevzi Yazıcı, Sedat Yetişkin, Oktay Vızvız, Abdullah Katırcıoğlu, Behçet Akyar, Murat Avcıoğlu, Yüksel Durgut, Zafer Özsoy, Cuma Kaya, Hakan Taşdelen, Osman Nuri Arslan, Ömer Karakaş.
Some of these individuals were detained in raids on their homes. However, some of them were not found in their homes. Therefore, certain individuals were detained only later. Individuals detained first within the scope of the investigation were held at the Istanbul Police Department’s Public Security Branch in Gayrettepe.
After the procedures at the police, Nazlı Ilıcak, Seyit Kılıç, Yakup Sağlam, Bayram Kaya, Cihan Acar, Bünyamin Köseli, Emre Soncan, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Abdullah Kılıç, Habip Güler, Mehmet Gündem, Cuma Ulus, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Bülent Mumay, Haşim Söylemez, Ali Akkuş, Yakup Çetin, Arda Akın and Ufuk Şanlı were brought to the Çağlayan Courthouse on July 30, 2016. They were interrogated by the prosecutor’s office, and were referred to the court: 20 of them with a request for their arrest and Bülent Mumay with a request for judicial control. The panel of judges ordered that journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Bayram Kaya, Haşim Söylemez, Seyid Kılıç, Emre Soncan, Cuma Ulus, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Habib Güler, Ufuk Şanlı, Yakup Çetin, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Ali Akkuş, Abdullah Kılıç, Cihan Acar, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu and Hüseyin Aydın be arrested for “membership of a terrorist organization”. Yakup Sağlam and Arda Akın were released on condition of judicial control. Under the judicial control provisions, the court ruled that the two suspects were banned from leaving the country and had to go to the police station for signature once a week. The court ordered the release of Bülent Mumay and Mehmet Gündem.
Of those detained under the same investigation but on different dates, pop singer and Meydan newspaper columnist Atilla Taş, journalists Murat Aksoy and Mutlu Çölgeçen, National Party chairman and contributor to Türk Solu magazine Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu were arrested on September 2, 2016, on charges of “knowingly and willingly aiding FETÖ without being part of its hierarchical structure”. The journalists referred to the court on the same day, namely Ayhan Şimşek, İskender Yunus Tiryaki, Dinçer Gökçe and Levent Arap were released on condition of judicial control.
All of the detained journalists were taken to Silivri High Security Closed Prison. The trial of the journalists began 8 months later. Files of some of the names detained under the investigation were separated. The indictment covered the following individuals: Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bülent Ceyhan, Bünyemin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Davut Aydın, Emre Soncan, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Muhterem Tanık, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Said Sefa, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin, Yetkin Yıldız.
These individuals consisted of employees, owners and writers of the Millet, Cihan Haber Ajansı, Zaman, Meydan, Yeni Hayat, Bugün newspaper, and Rotahaber and Samanyolu Haber web sites.
On page 112 of the indictment, there was comprehensive information on the organization and creation of “Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization- Parallel State Structure /FETÖ-PDY”. Such information was provided in similar cases as well.
The section on the defendants focused on the newspapers and web sites that they worked for. The journalists were charged for working at media outlets shuttered by Decree Laws, for their articles in these outlets, and their social media posts.
The indictment was accepted by Istanbul 25. High Criminal Court and a lawsuit was filed. The date of the first hearing was scheduled as March 27-31, 2017. 26 defendants were under arrest, while one defendant was free. Of the defendants, journalists Said Sefa and Bülent Ceyhan did not attend the hearing since they were fugitives. The hearing was held in the large hall on the ground floor of Çağlayan Courthouse because of the high number of defendants and spectators.
On the last day of the hearings, the prosecutor requested the release of 13 individuals, and the panel of judges ordered the release of 21 out of the 26 defendants under arrest, including these 13. However, the prosecutor objected to the release of 8 journalists scheduled for that day. 26. High Criminal Court processed and approved this objection right away, and issued a second arrest order for Hanım Büşra Erdal, Ahmet Memiş, Bayram Kaya, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cuma Ulus, Habib Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta and Muhammet Said Kuloğlu. These eight people thus remained in prison. On the same day, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant for the 13 people whom the prosecutor had requested to be released and the court had ordered to be released, due to the “coup investigation”. These people were taken from prison to police custody. As part of this investigation, seven people were arrested for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government of Republic of Turkey”. The reason for their arrest was presented as “the evidence against the suspects, the nature of the alleged offense, and the possibility of escape.”
The suspects thus interrogated were arrested by the criminal court of peace that they were referred to, and sent back to prison. Release orders had been issued for the following individuals: Abdullah Kılıç, Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Bayram Kaya, Bünyemin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Cuma Ulus, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Oğuz Usluer, Seyid Kılıç, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız.
The second hearing of the case was held on April 27, 2017. Witnesses for the journalists were also heard at this hearing. The court adjourned the trial until July 6, 2017. At the end of that hearing, the court announced its interim ruling, rejected the release requests by 13 defendants and their lawyers, and adjourned the case until October 24. At the third hearing of the case, the panel of judges had changed for the third time. The trial began with the chair of the panel of judges reading the documents that had been sent to the court. A written statement from the General Directorate of Security claimed that the defendants Bülent Ceyhan, D. A., Mutlu Çölgeçen, Oğuz Usluer, Seyit Kılıç and Ufuk Şanlı had downloaded the application ByLock on their mobile phones. However, A., Usluer and Kılıç rejected this claim.
Meanwhile, a new indictment was drafted about the 13 people who had been arrested again after the release order. This second indictment concerning 13 individuals charged them with “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey”, requesting two counts of aggravated life sentence.
The indictment claimed that “the suspects followed FETÖ’s orders to open an account in Bank Asya or deposit a large amount of money in an already existing account, some of them used ByLock, some of them had phone calls with senior leaders of FETÖ”. Furthermore, it was alleged that the suspects objected to the operations against the Gülen Sect launched after December 17-25, 2013, and supported the organization.
The first hearing of this case was held on August 16-17, 2017 at the Istanbul 25. High Criminal Court. 13 of the defendants were in attendance at the hearing. At the hearing, the rearrested journalists presented their defense. At the end of the hearing, the court ordered the release of Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar with a ban on leaving the country and the continuation of the detention of the other defendants, as well as the continuation of judicial control for Ali Akkuş. The court ruled that this trial be merged with the other trial where the defendants were accused of “membership of a terrorist organization”. The trial was adjourned until October 24, 2017. In that hearing, the defendants and their lawyers expressed their opinions about the reports on Bank Asya and ByLock use which had been sent to the court. According to the report on Bank Asya, six of the defendants including Atilla Taş had no account at Bank Asya, the accounts of four other defendants were dubious, and the other defendants did have accounts at the said bank but these showed no out-of-ordinary transaction. At the end of the hearing, the court ordered the release of journalists Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy from prison.
After the decision to merge the two cases, the second hearing was scheduled for December 3-4, 2017. Witnesses continued to be heard at this hearing. A total of six witnesses were interrogated about Bünyamin Köseli, who had been released at the previous hearing, and Sait Sefa, for whom there was an arrest warrant, and the defendants in detention Bayram Kaya, Ahmet Memiş and Muhammed Sait Kuloğlu. After the testimonies of the witnesses, the prosecutor presented his judicial opinion, and requested the continued detention of all the defendants. Then the defendants took the floor to respond to witness testimonies.
The next hearing of the case was held on February 8, 2018. The prosecutor submitted his opinion as to the accusations, and requested that the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” be dropped. However, he requested that all the defendants except Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık be charged with “membership of FETÖ / PDY terrorist organization” and that all the defendants who had been previously released be arrested, except Aksoy.
In his opinion as to the accusations, the prosecutor also requested that the cases of Said Sefa and Bülent Ceyhan, who were fugitives, be separated. After the prosecutor’s opinion, the defense lawyers took the floor and criticized the prosecutor’s requests since the digital report and the other evidence were in favor of their clients. Most of the lawyers also drew attention to the absence of concrete evidence that would justify the allegations of “membership of a terrorist organization” against their clients. At the end of the hearing, former Zaman business correspondent Halil İbrahim Balta was released on condition of judicial control due to health issues. The court then adjourned the trial until February 22-23, 2018 due to the lawyers’ demand for additional time to prepare their defense.
In the interim ruling, the court ordered that the files of the fugitives Bülent Ceyhan and Said Sefa be separated since they were also sued for “membership of a terrorist organization” and that the file of the detainee Emre Soncan also be separated, and merged with a newly filed lawsuit against him. Following this interim ruling, the number of defendants in the trial fell from 29 to 26.
The final hearing of the case was held on March 7-8, 2018. Following the defense presented, the journalists were asked to express their final remarks about the prosecutor’s opinion. Then the court announced its verdict, handing down sentences to 23 defendants for “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”
Journalist Murat Aksoy was sentenced to 2 years, 1 month in prison on charges of “knowingly and willingly aiding the organization, without taking part in the hierarchical structure of the organization”. Atilla Taş was also sentenced to 3 years, 1 month, 15 days in prison. The court ruled that these defendants would not be detained for the moment.
The panel of judges acquitted M. T., the wife of the owner of Rotahaber web site, Ünal Tanık.
The court ordered that 11 the following defendants be sentenced for “membership of a terrorist rganization” to 6 years, 3 months in prison -the lower limit for this crime: Former writer and editor of Habertürk newspaper Abdullah Kılıç; Zaman newspaper’s Ankara correspondent Bayram Kaya; Zaman newspaper’s culture and arts correspondent Bünyamin Köseli; Aksiyon magazine’s reporter Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu; Bugün newspaper’s correspondent Cihan Acar; Zaman newspaper’s correspondent Habip Güler; Zaman newspaper’s business correspondent Halil İbrahim Balta; Zaman newspaper’s correspondent Hanım Büşra Erdal; Cihan News Agency reporter Hüseyin Aydın; Zaman newspaper’s correspondent Yakup Çetin; and Türk Solu magazine’s Editor-in-Chief Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu.
The remaining 12 defendants were sentenced to 7 years, 6 months of imprisonment on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organization” due to “the nature of the crime committed and the intensity of criminal intent”. This group included: Haberdar’s news coordinator Ahmet Memiş; Zaman’s former news manager Ali Akkuş; the founder of Şubuhaber news web site Muhammed Sait Kuloğlu; former news manager of Bugün newspaper Mustafa Erkan Acar; Sabah newspaper’s former Ankara news editor Mutlu Çölgeçen; Habertürk TV’s former coordinator Oğuz Usluer; TRT news reporter Seyid Kılıç; Millet newspaper’s business news director and former contributor to al-Monitor, Ufuk Şanlı; Rotahaber website’s owner Ünal Tanık; editor of Active Haber website Yetkin Yıldız; Habertürk TV’s former news manager Cuma Ulus; and teacher Davut Aydın.
The court also ordered the change of the status of all detainees to “prisoner on remand”, and ordered the arrest of previously released Ali Akkuş.
Lawyers objected to the sentences at the court of appeal. Istanbul Regional Court’s 2. Criminal Chamber upheld the prison sentences on October 22, 2018. The court of appeal ordered the continued detention of the defendants, and rejected the defendants’ appeal in substance. 2. Criminal Chamber ruled that the evidence presented in the file was adequate and sufficient to convict the defendants, and that the local court’s decision was in keeping with the laws.
After the court of appeal upheld the prison sentences, Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy, who had been sentenced to less than five years, went back to prison. Aksoy was released on probation on January 4, 2019 and Taş on February 8, 2019 after serving their sentences.
Court of Cassation Process
The court of appeal’s decision to uphold the sentence was then referred to the Court of Cassation since the prison sentences were over five years. The appeal proceedings at the Court of Cassation are still underway. The individuals who were handed down prison sentences are still prisoners on remand.