An investigation was launched on June 8, 2018, against the owner and editor-in-chief of the online news web site Çağdaş Ses, Ece Sevim Öztürk, due to her social media posts and comments about the coup attempt of July 15. She was investigated for links to the FETÖ (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization). A detention order was issued on the same day and she was taken into custody on June 14 with a house raid.
Ece Sevim Öztürk was taken to the public prosecutor’s office on June 20. After her testimony, she was sent to the Istanbul Criminal Court of Peace on watch. Following her testimony in court, she was arrested on charges of “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization” and “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization.” She was placed in Bakırköy Women’s Prison.
The indictment against her was drafted by Istanbul Public Prosecutor Uygur Kaan Arısoy on August 6. Istanbul 37th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment on August 28.
In his indictment, Arısoy presented Öztürk’s documentary on the July 15 coup attempt titled “Deniz Kuvvetlerinin En Karanlık Günü: 15 Temmuz” (“The Darkest Day of the Navy: July 15”) among the evidence. The prosecutor requested her to be sentenced for her documentary and her social media posts, arguing that “she contributes to FETÖ’s attempts to cast a shadow on the legitimacy of the general elections of June 24, create social turmoil, revive the organization, and free its leaders and members from prison.”
The first hearing was scheduled to November 1, 2018.
Delivering her defense in the first hearing of the trial, Öztürk stated that the indictment presented her Tweets in question as “an attempt to aid the organization without being a member” with a view towards “creating chaos before the June 24 elections.” Öztürk argued that this was a forced argument. In its interim ruling, the court ordered that her detention should continue since her posts seemed to contribute to “FETÖ’s social media campaigns to portray July 15 as a controlled coup, imaginary coup or staged coup; there is a strong possibility of criminal activity and simple judicial control would be insufficient.”
Ece Sevim Öztürk - FETÖ Propaganda Davası (İddianame)
The business news web site Bloomberg HT published a story on the depreciation of the TL and its effects in August 2018. The story was penned by Bloomberg Turkey reporter Fercan Yalınkılıç and their director of intelligence Kerim Karakaya. At the time, the US dollar had climbed from 4.70 TL to 7 TL in the Turkish markets in two weeks owing to the crisis between the USA and Turkey about the imprisonment of Pastor Andrew Brunson.
The Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency sent a notification to Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on August 14, 2018, four days after the publication of the news story. The resulting investigation was then merged with the cases of 36 other individuals for violating Capital Markets Law with their social media posts on the depreciation of TL, banks, and the Turkish economy.
At the end of the investigation, the prosecutor drafted an indictment against 38 individuals including Yalınkılıç and Karakaya, as well as Mustafa Sönmez, Merdan Yanardağ, Sedef Kabaş and Orhan Kalkan on charges of violating the Capital Markets Law.
The Public Prosecutor Kenan Zurnacı completed the indictment in May 2019 and submitted it to the court.
In the indictment, the prosecutor accused 38 individuals including Kerim Karakaya and Fercan Yalınkılıç of Bloomberg news agency who penned the said news story, as well as journalists Mustafa Sönmez, Sedef Kabaş, Mervan Yanardağ and Orhan Kalkan of “attempting to stage an economic coup.”
The first section of the indictment covered the content of the news story published on August 8, 2018. According to the indictment, the news story claimed that Turkish banking system was faced with its severest FX crisis since 2001, two banks refused to sell FX on August 10, one bank refused a client’s demand to withdraw 5 thousand dollars, there was a huge increase in customer demands for withdrawing FX from accounts, and BRSA invited all senior bank executives to a meeting on August 11. The prosecutor Zurnacı stated that these phrases “run contrary to the facts, and are designed to give the impression that our national banking and finance system is in tatters.”
The indictment also made references to official online announcements by BRSA and Association of Turkish Banks dated August 11 indicating that the news story did not represent the truth.
It was also stated that the Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency filed a criminal complaint with Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on August 14, 2018.
The indictment indicated that during the investigation initiated upon this criminal complaint, it was observed that real persons had “launched attacks serving the same purpose on their social media accounts,” and therefore presented as evidence the social media posts of the defendants during August and September 2018.
Prosecutor Zurnacı listed in the indictment the social media posts related to economic crisis by Karakaya, journalists and other defendants.
Prosecutor Zurnacı then provided his general assessments, claiming that the defendants “targeted the economic order and stability of the Republic of Turkey.” According to the prosecutor, 38 people made “statements and declarations designed to create chaos, and cast a shadow on companies, institutions and organizations.” According to Zurnacı, their aim was to “damage market confidence.”
The prosecutor associated the said posts with the violation of the Capital Markets Law, accusing the defendants of “market manipulation” as per its Article 107, which reads as follows:
“Those who make purchases and sales, give orders, cancel orders, change orders or realize account activities with the purpose of creating a wrong or deceptive impression on the prices of capital market instruments, their price changes, their supplies and demands, shall be sentenced to imprisonment from two years up to five years and be punished with a judicial fine from five thousand days up to ten thousand days.”
Prosecutor Zurnacı is also requesting that the suspects be deprived of certain rights as stipulated by Turkish Penal Code, Article 53/1.
The indictment was accepted by the Istanbul Third Criminal Court of First Instance and a lawsuit was filed against the defendants. The first hearing of the case was scheduled for September 20, 2019. Journalists and their lawyers were present at the hearing. The judge was Hüseyin Tanfer Ayhan. Following the identity check, the defendants presented their defenses.
The journalists argued that their news stories and posts fell within the framework of journalistic activities that served the public interest. The lawyers demanded the acquittal of the journalists.
After the defendants and defense lawyers, the lawyers for Capital Markets Board and BRSA took the floor. The CMB’s lawyer reiterated their request that the defendants be sentenced for the charges. BRSA demanded to be involved in the case on grounds that it suffered damages from the crime in question.
At the end of the hearing, the court rejected the defense lawyers’ demand for acquittal, and accepted BRSA’s request to be involved in the case due to alleged damages from the crime.
The next hearing of the case will be held on January 17, 2020.
Ekonomik Darbe Girişimi Davası (İddianame)
On October 9, 2018, Mesopotamia News Agency Reporter Esra Solin Dal’s home was raided due to an alleged denunciation. Dal’s video camera and cell phone, and her brother’s computer were seized. After three days in detention, she was released on condition of judicial control.
On December 6, 2018, Diyarbakır Public Prosecutor Şahsuvar Yıldız issued an indictment against Dal. The 36-page indictment cited Dal’s phone calls for journalistic purposes as evidence of crime. In the indictment, the prosecutor pressed charges against Dal for membership of an armed terrorist organization, basing himself on “secret witness statement and phone records confirming this statement, open source research records, video analyses and photographic identification reports, the defense statement of the suspect, and the examination of the entire file”.
Dal was acquitted at the first hearing of the case on March 20, 2019.
Esra Solin Dal - Üyelik Davası (İddianame)
The Evrensel newspaper published a news story titled “Rüşvet ata sporumuzdur” (“Bribery is our ancestral sport”) on March 9, 2014.
The story signed by M. Utku Şengür made references to voice recordings which surfaced during the corruption investigations that began on December 17, 2013, to suggest that bribery was a tradition that went back to Ottoman times. It was claimed that in the said voice recordings the then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan called his son Bilal Erdoğan when the police operation began, telling him to take out the cash hidden in their home.
Erdoğan’s lawyers Ahmet Özel, Ferah Yıldız, Hatice Özay, Sara Kanalka, Murat İlvan, Faruk Karagüzel sued the managing editor of the newspaper Arif Koşar and the contributor M. Utku Şengür after the publication of the story.
On October 21, 2016, lawyer Ahmet Özel submitted a petition of complaint to the criminal court of peace on duty, stating that the limits of journalism had been exceeded since the news story contained fabricated information and accounts, which constituted “an attack against the rights, duty and prestige of Erdoğan.” He also claimed that the news story incited hatred and enmity.
The petition further indicated that the correction sent by Erdoğan’s lawyers to the newspaper was accepted, but not published.
The lawyer requested 50,000 TL in immaterial compensation from the legally responsible persons Koşar and Şengür, for “attack on personal rights.”
The petition was processed by the Istanbul 20th Civil Court of First Instance. Devrim Avcı Özkurt, the lawyer for Koşar and Şengür, stated in his petition that the news story was published for journalistic purposes and was in compliance with the laws.
Özkurt also stated the following in his petition: “Due to the nature of a democratic polity, not necessarily everyone has the same views. Therefore, individuals who appear in public, such as politicians, executives and administrators, may not always come across news stories that praise them. If one looks at the news story which forms the subject matter of this case with such a perspective, it is evident that that it remains within the limits of press freedom, in complete accordance with principles of journalism.”
For these reasons, Özkurt requested that the case be dropped for being ”unfounded”.
In cases where compensation is demanded, the courts of first instance are in charge. The proceedings are based on the petition of complaint; the prosecutor does not draft an indictment, and does not attend the hearings.
The final hearing was held on October 15, 2019. Erdoğan’s lawyer Ela Ezgi Yelmen, and defendants Koşar and Şengür’s lawyer Mustafa Söğütlü attended the hearing.
Yelmen requested that the case be accepted.
The defense lawyer Söğütlü stated that the statute of limitations for the said news story had expired and that the story must be viewed within the scope of the freedom of press. He requested that the case be dropped.
Without adjourning the trial, Judge Hakan Çırak reached a verdict and ruled that the case be dropped due to the expiry of the statute of limitations.
Evrensel Gazetesi-Bilal Erdoğan Tazminat Davası (Şikayet Dilekçesi)
Energy Minister Berat Albayrak and his brother Serhat Albayrak filed a complaint against the editor-in-chief of Evrensel newspaper, Fatih Polat, for publishing news stories about Paradise Papers, which shed light on offshore investments by politicians and business people from all over the world.
A decision of non-prosecution was reached for Polat since the managing editor was responsible for the content of the publications. Then another complaint was filed about the former Managing Editor Çağrı Sarı and a lawsuit was filed against her on charges of “insult and slander.” She was acquitted at the sixth hearing of the case.
Evrensel Gazetesi Paradise Papers Davası (İddianame)
After Paradise Papers concerning the offshore investments of politicians and business people from all over the world were leaked, a cartoon was published in the Evrensel newspaper on July 7, 2017, about the offshore accounts of Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his sons.
On November 10, 2017, Binali Yıldırım and his son Erkam Yıldırım filed a lawsuit demanding compensation for immaterial damages against cartoonist Sefer Selvi who drew the said cartoon, Evrensel’s editor Çağrı Sarı (who was the newspaper’s managing editor on the date in question), and the company publishing the newspaper, Bülten Basın Yayın Reklamcılık Tic. LTD. ŞTİ.
The first hearing was held on July 19, 2018. At the second hearing, which took place on November 8, 2018, the court ruled that Sefer Selvi and the company Bülten Basın Yayın Reklamcılık pay TL 5,000 of compensation for immaterial damages to each of the complainants.
Evrensel Paradise Papers Karikatür Davası (İddianame)