Aydın Engin started his journalism career in 1969. He worked as a news director and writer for the Yeni Ortam magazine. He was imprisoned after the coup d’etat in 1971. He was among the founders of the Turkish Socialist Workers’ Party. He worked as a reporter and writer for the Cumhuriyet Newspaper from 1992 to 2002. He terminated his contract in 2002. He wrote articles for the Birgün and Agos Newspapers, then he returned to the Cumhuriyet newspaper in 2014. He was prosecuted in the Cumhuriyet trial and sentenced to 7,5 years in prison for “aiding and abetting an organisation knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” on Sept. 7, 2018. The Court of Cassation reversed the decision of prison sentence about Aydın Engin along with all the other defendants of Cumhuriyet Newspaper.
Aydın Engin was taken under custody in the scope of an operation against the Cumhuriyet newspaper on March 31, 2016. He was taken to the Istanbul Security Directorate Anti-Terrorism Branch Office. The 75-years old writer Engin was held under custody for five days, then he was interrogated by the investigative prosecutor Murat İnam. İnam asked Engin about his article titled “Yurtta sulh, peki cihanda sulh?” (“Peace in the world, but peace at home?” ), which he wrote two days before the 15th of July, 2016 coup attempt. Noting that he used Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s “Peace at home, peace in the world” saying, Engin said, “this cannot be affiliated with Gülen [Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist living in self-imposed exile in the USA who is accused of orchestrating a coup attempt on the Turkish government]; that in his article he was criticizing the political power which doesn’t take action to end the clashes [which have continued for the last four decades between Turkish Army and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)-]; and in his all writings he was condemning the coup undoubtedly.”
Engin said that he went to Abant meetings [meetings held 34 times by The Foundation of Journalists and Writers, a foundation that was shut down after the coup attempt by a presidential decree] first in 2001 when he was tasked by İlhan Selçuk [former Chairman of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, who is now deceased], a second time in 2014, in which he watched the meeting on behalf of T24 and German News Agency and lastly in 2015 on behalf of the Cumhuriyet newspaper. He said he didn’t get any instruction from an organization and could not have. After his interrogation, due to his health status, Engin was released on Nov. 5, 2016. After his release, Engin said, “I am a senior defendant in press trials. I have never seen a file as immoral as this. I don’t say ridiculous, I say immoral.”
While the discussion around operation against the Cumhuriyet newspaper continued, it was revealed that the investigation’s prosecutor, Murat İnam, was a defendant in a trial along with 53 other judges and prosecutor for “FETÖ’s plot on Selam Tevhid investigation.” In the trial which was continuing in the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber, an aggravated life sentence and 67 years 3 months of jail time was recommended for 10 charges, including “attempting to abolish the government, political and military espionage, and being a member of FETÖ.”
Upon this development, İnam was dismissed from the investigation and replaced with Mehmet Akif Ekinci, the deputy of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor and Yasemin Baba, a junior prosecutor with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against 18 Cumhuriyet employees and managers, including Aydın Engin on April 3, 2017. In the indictment, the prosecutors charged Aydın Engin for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” (TPC 220/7).
In the indictment, it was claimed that Engin had a communication log with 14 people who were “investigated for FETÖ affiliation and were allegedly ByLock users [The ByLock log and application were regarded as proof of being a member of FETÖ by numerous courts].” Engin was charged for the nine articles he published in T24 and the Cumhuriyet newspaper between 2014 to 2016. It was claimed that Engin was “in a critical stance to the operations against FETÖ/PDY [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure].”
In the indictment, it was claimed that Engin was “accusing the political power to be aggressive both in domestic and foreign relations” in his article titled “Peace in the world, but peace at home?” which was published two days before the coup attempt. Noting that the coup plotters who cut the TRT 1’s air on the night of 15th of July, 2016, called themselves “Yurtta Sulh Konseyi” [Peace at Home Council], the prosecutors claimed that “it cannot be a coincidence.”
In the indictment, Cem Küçük, a pro-government commentator’s testimony was considered as evidence against the defendants. In addition to this, Şükran Soner, Nail İnal, Talat Atilla, Rıza Zelyut, Mehmet Faraç, İbrahim Yıldız, Ali Açar, Aykut Küçükkaya, Ceyhan Mumcu, İnan Kıraç, Alev Coşkun, Mustafa Pamukoğlu and Nevzat Tüfekçioğlu’s testimonies as witnesses were included in the indictment.
The trial began at Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court on July 24, 2017. Engin was released pending trial. Aydın defended himself on July 27, 2017. Noting that nine of his articles were considered as crimes in the indictment, Engin denied all the accusations. He stated that he attended the Abant meetings as a journalist.
In the seventh hearing of trial, which was held on March 16, 2018, the prosecutor Hasan Bölükbaşı explained his opinion regarding the accusations. The prosecutor recommended up to 15 years of jail time for Aydın Engin under the charge of “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization.”
The final hearing of the trial was held in a courtroom, which was built outside of the Silivri Prison, on April 24, 2018. In his defense against the prosecutor’s opinion regarding the accusation of changing the editorial policy, Aydın Engin said, “The only thing which cannot be changed is democracy, freedom, the state of law and the principles of independent journalism.” Noting that explaining his nine articles which were subjected to the prosecution would be disrespecting the perception and comprehension abilities of the court, Engin said, “Listen to me Mr. Prosecutor. We are not the kind of journalists that you are used to. No person or institution can buy us out. Apparently, you didn’t know this and just learned it in the hearing.”
In his last words, Aydın Engin said, “Here the right to be informed is being prosecuted. They want to prevent it. And your job is to stop it. It is a tough job. I cannot help you. You have to do it by yourself.”
The court reached a verdict on April 25, 2018, and found Aydın Engin guilty for “aiding and abetting organizations such as the PKK, DHKP-C [Revolutionist People’s Salvation Party-Front, a far left organization] and FETÖ/PDY knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” and sentenced him to 7 years and 6 months in prison.
In the reasoning of the verdict, the court stated that Engin was “also the managing editor of the paper since the beginning of the 2015 and middle of 2016, by his position and his articles he were influencing the editorial policy de facto.” In the verdict, it was stated that on the contrary of the foundation voucher which defines the editorial principles of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Engin attended the Congregation’s [Fethullah Gülen’s followers] Abant meetings and was “writing articles praising the Congregation and continued to support this after the 15th of July, 2016’s coup attempt.”
In the reasoning, it was claimed that Engin was “making the terrorist organization look innocent with his articles, which created a public perception; that his article’s title published before the coup attempt was used by the plotters and cannot be considered as a coincidence and it was important for creating a public opinion for coup attempt.”
The Istanbul Regional Court of Justice’s 3rd Penal Chamber approved the verdict on Feb. 18, 2019. The defense attorneys appealed the verdict to the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber on Feb. 26, 2019.
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.
In the notification, it was stated that as a manager and a columnist of the newspaper, Engin cannot be accused of the articles that he did not write and that there was no element of crime in the claims and evidences about his articles. It was also stated in the notification letter that:
“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.”
Moreover, it was mentioned that Engin’s being a manager of the newspaper does not correspond to the crime of “aiding and abetting the organization intentionally.”
The Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber reversed the decision about Aydın Engin along with all the other defendants of Cumhuriyet Newspaper.
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.