Akın Atalay is a legal expert and lawyer. He was graduated from Istanbul University’s Law School in 1985.
He worked as a lawyer, legal adviser and board member for the Cumhuriyet newspaper from 1992 to 2018.
His latest position was Acting Chairman of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation. Atalay terminated his contract with the newspaper on Sept. 7, 2018.
He was prosecuted in the Cumhuriyet trial. He was in prison during the hearings and accused for “aiding and abetting an organisation knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” and “abuse of trust.”.
The prosecutor recommended up to 43 years in prison for Atalay. He was sentenced to 7 years 3 months and 15 days of prison.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation demanded that the sentence about Akın Atalay be inquired.The Court of Cassation reversed the decision about Akın Atalay along with all the other defendants of Cumhuriyet Newspaper. The retrial of all the defendants will start at the Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court.
In the scope of the operation against the Cumhuriyet newspaper, the Istanbul 9th Criminal Court of Peace ruled for an arrest warrant against Akın Atalay, who was the vice president of Cumhuriyet Foundation, the chairman of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, and the vice president of the Executive Board of the Yenigün News Agency. Akın Atalay who was in Germany at the time of the operation, returned to Turkey, despite the fact an arrest warrant had been issued against him on Nov. 11, 2016. Atalay was arrested at the Atatürk Airport and was taken to the Istanbul Security Directorate Anti-Terrorism Branch Office. Then he was sent to court and arrested by the Istanbul 9th Criminal Court of Peace on Nov. 12, 2016.
Judge Mustafa Çakar reasoned his verdict on the base there was a “risk of fleeing.” Yet Akın Atalay had returned to the country willingly even though he was aware there was an arrest warrant against him.
The prosecutor who conducted the investigation considered the reports of the newspaper as “the advertisement and the propaganda of terrorist organizations.” The judge of the Criminal Court of Peace on Duty claimed that “Akın Atalay was responsible for these actions.” Akın Atalay denied the accusations and told a joke about that absurd situation:
“I would like to end my interrogation with a joke. In the reign of Ottoman Sultan Murad IV, there was a dervish named Bekri Mustafa who was a famous drunk. One day, Bekri Mustafa, was again nearly dead drunk, was walking by a mosque. There was a funeral prayer at the mosque, but the imam wasn’t on sight. When the mass noticed Bekri Mustafa with his robe and beard, called him to lead the mass in the prayer. Even through Bekri Mustafa rejected the request by saying, “I am not a hodja, the prayer I lead wouldn’t be valid,” the mass pulled him from his shirt and pushed him in front of the coffin rest. After he did his job, Bekri Mustafa approached the deceased and whispered to him. The mass asked, “Hey, hodja, what did you whisper?” Bekri Mustafa answered, “I told him that, now you are heading to the after life, they will ask you ‘How is Earth?” and you will answer, “Bekri Mustafa became Imam, leading prayers.’ Then they’ll understand. The moral of the story is, the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s managers and employees were arrested for aiding FETÖ. That is how the law is in our country.”
While Akın was under custody, the prosecutor of the investigation, Murat İnam, was prosecuted for 10 different crimes, including “attempting to abolish the Constitutional order” and “being a member of FETÖ,” in the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber. After that, Mehmet Akif Ekinci, the deputy of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor, and Yasemin Baba, a junior prosecutor with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, were appointed to the file.
Mehmet Akif Ekinci, the deputy of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor, and Yasemin Baba, a junior prosecutor with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, issued the Cumhuriyet indictment on April 3, 2017. The case against 19 people, including Akın Atalay, was opened. In the indictment, the prosecutors charged Akın Atalay for “aiding a terrorist organization, although not being a member of that organization” (TPC 220/7) and the “abuse of trust” (TPC 155) and recommended up to 43 years of jail time for him.
In the conclusion and evaluation chapter of the indictment, it was noted that Atalay “had 6 communication logs with 5 people who were subjected to an investigation for FETÖ-related crimes and allegedly had the ByLock application on their phones.” [The ByLock log and application were regarded as proof of FETÖ membership by numerous courts.]
In the indictment, the testimonies of Ali Açar, Miyase İlknur, and Aykut Küçükkaya [They were and are still employees of the Cumhuriyet newspaper and testified as witnesses in the investigation process. İlknur and Küçükkaya also testified in court.] were highlighted and it was claimed “a body was conducted under the name of ‘Executive Board’ despite the fact no such body existed in the foundation voucher” and therefore Atalay “consolidated significant power in the management of the newspaper.” In addition to these, in the indictment, it was noted that Atalay became the “top of the management” and it was stated that:
“[Akın Atalay] had strong influence on the editorial policy of the newspaper, through which he was supporting the perception operations of terrorist organizations; with his tweets he openly stood against the operations against the FETÖ/PDY’s [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure] media outlets and companies and he supported the organization. In his testimony, Rıza Zelyut who is a journalist and a witness of the investigation said that after İlhan Selçuk [former Chairman of the Executive Board of Cumhuriyet Foundation] passed away in 2010, the newspaper was seized especially through the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and Akın Atalay was leading the seizure; meanwhile the Ataturkists such as Mustafa Balbay, Mehmet Faraç, Bedri Baykam, and Alev Coşkun were replaced with Fethullahist writers who were in line with the USA. In the testimony of Mehmet Saraç, who was a former columnist of the Cumhuriyet newspaper and a witness in the file, said that the breaking point of the editorial policy was the death of İlhan Selçuk; before that Akın Atalay was just a lawyer but after Selçuk’s death, the steps required for the transformation in the newspaper started to be taken; that the suspect was said to have allied with Hikmet Çetinkaya and Orhan Erinç [both were the members of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and defendants]; that the suspect Akın Atalay was responsible primarily for the radical change of the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editorial policy, which was contrary to its founding values and principles …”
In the indictment, regarding the twitter posts of Akın Atalay, the prosecutors claimed, “the suspect was protecting the armed terrorist organization of FETÖ/PDY; that he presented the legitimate state structure and the operation against FETÖ as a terrorist action; that these posts were not journalistic activities but were serving manipulative intentions …”
The first hearing of the trial was held in the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan on July 24, 2017. In his defense, Akın Atalay, who was already in pretrial detention, stated that the prosecution had two mutually complementary aims:
“The first aim is to silence the Cumhuriyet newspaper. The second is to show the end that awaits newspapers and journalists who contemplate or entertain the idea of publishing news undesired by the political rulership and articles that will not be to its liking. To spread the fear, ‘Is there anything those cannot do to us who can do this to this country’s oldest and longest-running newspaper that was named by Atatürk, is of the same age as the Republic of Turkey and has constantly defended its values and achievements?’ and to deliver this message in the starkest manner. I wish to stress that not the slightest regret or fear has been instilled in me by the severe injustice and wrong we have suffered due to being the managers of the Cumhuriyet newspaper. I am actually of the view that those responsible for this injustice are undergoing great fear. They cannot intimidate us with oppression, threat, and imprisonment. This paper is the Cumhuriyet newspaper and is a monument to journalism. Those tens of journalists senior to us who were our predecessors, we who have been imprisoned for about nine months, occupied important positions in this paper’s past and that of the Turkish press.”
Akın Atalay denied the accusation they seized the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation illegally. Reiterating that the election of the board was held on March 2013 because of the death of Aydın Aybay who was a member of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, Atalay said, “Before the meeting, there were nine members. Two of them resigned, one of them passed away so the meeting was held with six members. But they said, ‘There should be seven members’. But the ones who were absent in the meeting were the ones who protested. They tried to achieve something with a legal mistake which was conducted by themselves. They waited for two years. This trial [about the elections of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation] was opened in Istanbul 1st Civil Court of First Instance in 2016.” Akın Atalay noted that the minority vote was for Mustafa Pamukoğlu, then continued:
“Our candidate was Önder Çelik [former member of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and defendant]. In 1992, when I started to work in the newspaper, he was the operating manager of the newspaper. According to the logic of the prosecutor’s office, we are accused of aiding FETÖ for choosing someone who worked in the Cumhuriyet newspaper for 33 years, a secularist, an advocate of democratic values, who devoted his life to the Cumhuriyet newspaper.”
Regarding the accusation of the transformation in the editorial policy, Atalay defended himself in the following terms:
“I wish to state most forcefully that editorial policy has not changed. Essentially, courts cannot be the place and the arena for this debate. I thus protest about the diversion of this matter from its own natural channel and it’s being dragged into penal proceedings that have been taken as far as detention. We wish to remind those who, in proclaiming that Cumhuriyet newspaper has deviated from the Ataturkist editorial line, act as if they were authorized to define the Ataturkist line and determine its scope, and the prosecution in this context, that there have been those who set about doing the same thing before you. This paper’s leading columnist at the time, Nadir Nadi, told those who were making glib pronouncements on behalf of Ataturkism where to get off by saying ‘I am not Ataturkist’ in response to these excesses. At this point, I wish to counter the desire to use the judiciary to facilitate interference in editorial policy by saying that editorial policy concerns the readership alone and is accountable to it and the place and arena for this is not the courts. Absolutely no official and authority can interfere in a newspaper’s editorial policy under the guise of a penal investigation. This cannot and will not be permitted.”
In his defense, Atalay denied the accusation of “publishing articles and reports which served the aims of armed terrorist organizations such as FETÖ, PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish separatist group who has been at war with the Turkish state for the past four decades] and DHKP-C [Revolutionist People’s Salvation Party-Front, a far left organization].”
Atalay pointed out that in the indictment the prosecutors’ referred to some of the reports, headlines and articles as aiding a terrorist organization and reiterated that according to the indictment, all of the members of the Executive Board of the company that publishes the newspaper, the secondary authorized signatories and even the managers of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, which gave franchising to the publishing company, bore criminal responsibility.
Regarding this accusation, Atalay drew attention to the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s “Principle of Editorial Independence” and said that:
“In our newspaper, administrative, financial, legal managers, the owners of the company or the newspaper bosses don’t interfere with the editorial policy. Out of my respect and love for the institutional traditions and values of the Cumhuriyet newspaper and the principle of editorial independence that is this paper’s ingrained culture, I deem that it does not behoove me and would exceed my authority to comment on the reports or articles at issue in the charges.
Denying the accusation of having created financial losses for the Cumhuriyet Foundation and the publishing company, Atalay said, “The management that is alleged to have taken no steps of any kind in the face of the ever-growing loss, to have augmented the loss and to have made the paper insolvent in fact made a profit of 326,000 lira in the 2016 operating period.”
He also explained the nine transaction details in the indictment which were considered as ‘suspicious.’”
Regarding the accusation of communicating with five people “who were ByLock users,” Atalay said that all of them were journalists. Denying the accusation that due to the alleged change in the editorial policy after 2013, a marked fall in the paper’s sales was experienced as of this date, Atalay stated that the Press Announcements Agency’s regarding statistics were “entirely wrong and erroneous.” Atalay noted that former Editor-in-Chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper İbrahim Çiçek and Mustafa Balbay both signed the approval for the recruitment of Can Dündar as a columnist.
The sixth hearing of the trial was held in Silivri Prison on March 9, 2018.
The former columnists of the newspaper Mehmet Faraç, Leyla Tavşanoğlu and Namık Kemal Boya testified against the detained journalists. The journalist Altan Öymen and the DİSK leader Kani Beko [The Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey] testified as witnesses of the defendants. In their testimonies, Öymen and Beko both said the prosecuted journalists have nothing to do with FETÖ and their actions were purely journalistic activities.
At the end of the hearing, the court ruled to release Ahmet Şık and Murat Sabuncu. The Presiding Judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dağ said that the court ruled for the continuation of Atalay’s arrest by saying, “The captain leaves the ship last.”
In the hearing, which was held on March 16, 2017, the prosecutor Hasan Bölükbaşı explained his opinion regarding the accusations. Bölükbaşı recommended jail time for Akın Atalay for the charges of “aiding a terrorist organization, although not being a member of that organization” (TPC 220/7) and “abuse of trust” (TPC 155).
The final hearing of the trial was held on April 24-25, 2017. In his defense against the prosecutor’s opinion regarding the accusations, he noted the following terms:
“This trial, which openly declared that it prosecutes the journalistic activity, is the touchstone of the decline of the freedoms and the state of law, and a revelation of the intolerance to democracy and plurality. The suffocation of the freedom of the press should not be allowed because of this trial. Prohibitive, oppressive and unlawful practices should be opposed and they should be cleansed from the law. Not just the press freedom of a newspaper that has been published for 94 years is involved, but this society’s freedom and honor.”
Atalay ended his words with the lines that the poet Tevfik Fikret spoke a century ago: “We have seen all kinds of injustice. Is this the law? We have fallen into the direst of poverty. Is this the state? If this is the state and this is the law, enough at last. Enough at last of this vile oppression of ignorance.”
The Presiding Judge Dağ asked Atalay’s last words. “Whatever your verdict will be, we wish you to know that as the Cumhuriyet newspaper and us as the Republicans, we will never give up resisting evil. Because in our eyes this gives meaning to our lives. Even if our strength wouldn’t be enough to erase all the evil, we will give our full effort to prevent the banalization of evil in this society.”
After the last words of the defendants, the court gave its verdict on April 25, 2017.
In the verdict which the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court reached on April 25, 2017, Akın Atalay was acquitted for the charge of “abuse of trust” and was sentenced to 7 years 3 months and 15 days of prison for “aiding a terrorist organization, although not being a member of that organization.”
The Istanbul Regional Court of Justice’s 3rd Panel Chamber approved the verdict on Feb. 18, 2019. The attorneys of the journalists appealed the verdict to the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber on Feb. 26, 2019.
Ten defendants, including Akın Atalay have applied to the Constitutional Court on Dec. 6, 2016. The concerned branch of the court sent Atalay’s file to the General Assembly of the Court in July 2018. The General Assembly of the Court still has not discussed the file.
During the whole prosecution process, the Chairman of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation Akın Atalay was in jail. The verdict for a 7 year 3 month and 15 day prison sentence, which was reached after his release, is still in the Court of the Cassation.
The Court of Cassation
To refuse the verdict approved by the Court of Appeal, the lawyers applied to the Court of Cassation.
Mücahit Erdoğan and Turan Kuloğlu, the public prosecutors of the Court of Cassation presented their letter of notification about the file to the 16th Penal Chamber on July 16, 2019.
The public prosecutors demanded the reversal of decision about Atalay.
In the notification, it was stated that Atalay’s being a manager of the newspaper does not correspond to the crime of “aiding and abetting the organization intentionally.” It was added that Atalay did not write any articles that could be a subject of crime.
Apart from these, it was stated in the letter of notification that Atalay’s tweets, HTS reports and his dialogues with a Bylock user does not constitute a crime.
It was also mentioned that Atalay’s correspondence with a Bylock user does not alone constitute the crime of “aiding the organization.”
In the letter of notification, these statements took attention:
“The news reports, articles and social media posts which serve as criticism and commentary does not constitute the crime of aiding a terrorist organization on their own.”
The Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber reached a decision complying with the demands of the Court of Cassation’s letter of notification. In the reasoned decision of the chamber, it was stated that the principle of “defendant benefits from the suspicion” should be applied.
In the decision, the expressions about Cumhuriyet Newspaper as “known as its oppositional identity” were used. It was also stated that freedom of thought and expression should also include the ideas which are not approved by a part of the public.
In the decision, it was mentioned that for committing the crime of aiding an organization, there should be “an intention.” For detecting “an intention”, the existence of the organization and its members’ identites should also be known. There should be a concrete evidence for the crime of “aiding an organization intentionally and voluntarily.”
In the decision; it was mentioned that the fundamental condition of punishment is the detection of crime without any suspicion. Suspicious and ambigious allegations cannot be interpreted against the defendants for a decision of sentence.
It was emphasized in the decision that the court committees were mistaken about the assessment of evidences.
The retrial of all the defendants will start at the Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court.
The Constitutional Court
On Dec. 6, 2016, Akın Atalay and other 10 managers and journalists of the Cumhuriyet Newspaper applied to the Constitutional Court about the “unlawful detention” individually. In July 2018, the relevant departmen of the Constitutional Court referred Atalay’s file to the General Assembly.
The General Assembly of the Constitutional Court reached a decision on May 2, 2019. It rejected Atalay’s appeal about the violation of his rights.
In the decision letter, it was stated that the Cumhuriyet Newspaper targeted the state by giving place to headlines, news reports and articles which may be regarded as making propaganda in favor of a terrorist organization. It was added that Akın Atalay was responsible for these publications.
Moreover, it was mentioned in the decision letter that Atalay tried to disable the operations against FETÖ/PDY press organs through his social media posts and aided the organization by making the members of the terrorist organization look like victims.
Upon all these justifications, it was stated in the decision letter that the decision of investigation offices about Atalay cannot be regarded as “discretionary and baseless.”
Zühtü Arslan, the Constitutional Court’s chairman dissented the decision. In his letter of opposition, he evaluated Atalay’s social media posts.
Arslan said that Atalay made comments about the unlawfulness of precautions about the institutions which are allegedly related to FETÖ/PDY. Arslan added that “In spite of it, Atalay also touched upon the unlawfulness of this organization’s actions in the past. Thus, Atalay did not only criticise the government’s policies, but also the the Constitutional Court itself.”
Arslan mentioned that Atalay was fundamentally arrested for “the shift in the publishing policy of the newspaper and the articles and news reports published by it.” Therefore, “it is clear that the detention of the applicant may result in dissuading the freedom of expression and press.”
Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial (Indictment)
Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial (Reasoned Judgement)
Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial (The Constitutional Court's Judgement)
Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial (Notification of the Prosecutor's Office (CoC))
Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial (The Court of Cassation's Judgement)
Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial (The Court of Appeal's Judgement)