Bünyamin Köseli worked as a correspondent for the now-closed Zaman newspaper and Aksiyon magazine.
The newspaper and the magazine were initially appointed public administrators by a court order. The newspaper and the magazine were then “entirely” shut down by a statutory decree issued as part of the State of Emergency rule declared following the military coup attempt on 15 July 2016. During the state of emergency period, the government shut down many media outlets by statutory decrees that were put into effect without the parliament’s approval.
Köseli was detained on 25 July 2016 on allegations of “being affiliated with FETÖ media structure” as part of the investigation launched by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul. He was placed in custody on 29 July 2016 on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. Köseli was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
He spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be prepared. The indictment, which was completed on 16 January 2017, charged him with “membership of an armed organisation”. The prosecutor demanded that Köseli be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
Köseli was released pending trial at the first hearing of the trial on 31 March 2017. However, before having been released from prison, he was detained again as part of a new investigation. The custody procedures lasted for 14 days. Köseli was detained again on 14 April 2017 on charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the government”.
The second indictment charged him with “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the government”. The prosecution demanded that Köseli be sentenced to two aggravated life sentences.
The two indictments were merged.
He was released pending trial at the hearing of the trial held on16 August 2017. Köseli was released after spending one year and 20 days in prison.
At the end of the trial, Köseli was sentenced to imprisonment of six years and three months on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” on 8 March 2018.
The court of appeals approved the imprisonment sentence on 22 October 2018. The Court of Cassation finalised the sentence on 16 March 2020.
The Republic of Turkey held the structure known as the Fethullah Gülen Congregation responsible for the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. The National Security Council determined on 20 July 2016 that the military coup attempt “was initiated by FETÖ via 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 the similar allegations by Statutory Decrees (KHK) that were put into effect without the parliament’s approval.
In this context, Terrorism and Organised Crime Investigation Bureau of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul launched an investigation against 89 journalists and media workers on allegations of “membership of FETÖ/PDY”. The names of people who were placed in custody and the details of the investigation were communicated through the public broadcaster Anadolu Agency, and published on the website of Sabah newspaper.
Although many journalists were detained under the same investigation in July 2016, they stood trial based on different indictments. For example, Mümtazer Türköne, Şahin Alpay, Ali Bulaç and many other journalists stood trial as part of the “Zaman Newspaper Court Case”, whereas Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Bülent Keneş, Mehmet Kamış and many other journalists were tried within the case publicly known as the “Subliminal Coup Messages Court Case”.
Bünyamin Köseli, a correspondent for the now-closed Aksiyon magazine, was one of the people under investigation.
Köseli was detained in Istanbul on 25 July 2016. He was taken to the Gayrettepe Public Security Branch Office in Istanbul. Köseli was referred to the court following the procedures at the security directorate on 29 July 2016.
He was referred to the court to be remanded following the prosecutor’s questioning. He was then placed in custody on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation” following questioning at the court on 29 July 2016. Köseli was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
He spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be completed. The indictment concerning Köseli and 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, was completed on 16 January 2017.
The indictment concerning Bünyamin Köseli, a correspondent for the now-closed Aksiyon magazine, along with 29 defendants, 27 of whom were journalists, was completed by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul on 16 January 2017. The indictment consisted of 196 pages.
112 pages of the indictment listed allegations against the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation / Parallel State Structure (FETÖ-PDY)”. This part was identical with the texts in indictments prepared for similar cases.
The allegations against Köseli started on page 130 of the indictment. The indictment stated that Köseli “was working as a correspondent for Aksiyon magazine, which was shut down due to affiliations with FETÖ”. The indictment stated that he had written a book with the title Çelik Kapılar Ardındaki Örgüt: DHKP-C [The Organisation behind Steel Doors: DHKP-C] in 2015.
The indictment asserted that “FETÖ members were creating social media accounts with fake usernames, referred to as “trolls”, in order to form public opinion against Turkey”. It was asserted that these accounts “were sharing social media outputs in line with the aims of the organisation”, and Köseli was re-sharing (retweeting) these outputs. The indictment also listed 26 tweet and retweet posts from Köseli’s social media account. Some of the social media outputs listed in the indictment are as follows:
. “We have lost our newspaper, but they have lost their humanity. We can publish another newspaper, but it’s unlikely they will regain their humanity…”
. “Other congregations should learn from what happened to Zaman, if they are smart. If they are smart enough, they can understand what the state plans to do.”
. “Re-sharing the tweet sent from the account of Said Sefa with the address @sefasaid, which read: ‘Haberdar is open for all editors, correspondents and writers of Zaman and Today’s Zaman. A journalist’s honour is worth more than anything else.’“
. “Re-sharing the tweet sent from the account of Ahmet Memiş with the address @ahmemis, which read: ‘RTE’s [Recep Tayyip Erdoğan] words are a confession that confiscating Zaman was political rather than legal. We will see how the judges who made this decision will defend themselves in the future.’“
. “This is my newspaper. The thieves could not and will not lay their hands on it.”
. “Hacı Boydak hosted us at his country house. He made us dinner himself and we had it at his gazebo. He was one of the politest people I have ever known.”
. “There were thousands of valuable books in Zaman’s archive. They care nothing for books. We are sorry most of all about the books.”
. “For now, Yeni Asya group and the group of Alpaslan Kuytul grasp the seriousness of the issue. Those who acquiesce will all become subjects of the state’s rule.”
. “No one will be able to object even if they got 99 per cent [of the vote]. Cihan filled an important space.”
. “My newspaper is at my door. I am so happy! You cannot silence the truth!”
. “The son-in-law recently said ‘We need 100 billion dollars’. Where do you think they will obtain this amount of money?”
. “Doğan Media’s acquiescence will not solve the issue, because they are past acquiescence now. They are seizing property, and they need money. Doğan has that.”
(This part quotes the indictment verbatim. Typing errors were not corrected.)_
The indictment stated that “open source findings were used as examples, and there were many findings in the file”.
The indictment also included the results of Köseli’s bank account examinations. It was stated that “his account balance increased in September 2014 and March and June 2015, but it was not deemed significant”.
It was asserted that Köseli “discredited the efforts against the organisation”, “disseminated statements of the organisation members to the public”, and “altered the public perception on behalf of the organisation”.
The indictment charged Köseli with “membership of an armed organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that Köseli be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
The indictment was accepted by the 25th High Criminal Court of İstanbul.
The trial concerning 29 individuals, of whom 27 are journalists, including Bünyamin Köseli, a correspondent for the now-closed Aksiyon magazine, commenced with the first hearing at the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27-31 March 2017. Köseli had been in prison for approximately eight months when he first stood trial.
Attorney Ali Deniz Ceylan stated that the president of the court for the trial had detained Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu along with Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy and Mutlu Çölgeçen when he served as the judge for the 1st Court of Peace of Istanbul.
Stating that a judge who had served during the investigation process cannot serve during the trial process under the current law, attorney Ceylan demanded the president of the court’s recusal. The demand was rejected. Ceylan then demanded a “judicial disqualification”. The panel of judges unanimously rejected the demand for judicial disqualification on the grounds of it being “non-procedural”.
At the first hearing, the president of the court wanted to receive the defendants’ statements before the indictment was read.
Attorney Gülşah Kaya said: “I want the indictment to be read”. The president of the court interrupted while Kaya was speaking. Upon this, Kaya said: “A hearing does not proceed with this sort of back and forth exchange. I make a demand, and you make a decision. You at least have the responsibility to summarise the indictment”. However, the president of the court did not respond to the demand.
The indictment was not read. However, the statement “the indictment was read” was written in the court minutes. Attorney Ömer Kavili demanded “Let the minutes reflect that this is a false statement”. The panel of judges did not respond. Spectators applauded Kavili. In response to applause, the president of the court reacted by saying: “Who do you think you’re applauding?”
Following the identification of the defendants, the defendants made their defensive statements.
Journalist Köseli stated in his defence that he had been preparing to open an antiques store during the period he was unemployed and he had been busy collecting the necessary paperwork for the store with his father on the day of the military coup attempt on 15 July 2016.
Köseli asked “Would a person who had known about a military coup attempt to take place that very evening deal with gathering paperwork? While some people were planning a coup, did I contribute to the coup by trying to open an antiques store?” Köseli stated that a majority of the people in question regarding the phone calls in the indictment were journalists and their conversations did not constitute an element of crime.
During the second session of the trial on 31 March 2017, the prosecutor for the trial demanded that 13 journalists including Bünyamin Köseli be released pending trial. The court added eight more journalists to the 13 people to be released pending trial.
A series of developments took place on 31 March 2017 when the ruling was declared and the early hours of the following day.
Cem Küçük, who wrote columns for newspapers known to have adopted a pro-government publishing policy, stated the following in his social media account: “Every prosecutor and judge will be discharged from duty who ordered the release of apparent FETÖ members. This is the state’s definitive judgement. Everybody should know it.” He also stated the following: “The Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors started to take action. God willing, the traitors will not be set free.”
The prosecutor for the hearing objected to the release of eight journalists, who were released by the court even though the prosecutor had not demanded their release at the hearing the same day, 31 March 2017. These eight journalists were not able to leave the prison despite the release order concerning them and were once again remanded in custody.
On the other hand, a new investigation commenced concerning the 13 journalists including Bünyamin Köseli, whose release the prosecutor for the hearing had demanded and the court ruled accordingly. Köseli was charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
Thus, none of the journalists for whom release orders were issued were released on 31 March 2017.
The journalists concerning whom a release order was issued were taken to the Istanbul Directorate of Security on Vatan Boulevard while their families waited for them outside Silivri High Security Prison. The custody procedures here lasted for approximately two weeks.
12 out of 13 journalists who were once again detained after their release were brought before the court on 14 April 2017 after custody procedures. They were remanded on the same day on charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the Government of the Republic of Turkey” by the 2nd Criminal Court of Peace of Istanbul.
The arrest warrant included the “risk of flight” of the journalists as justification. However, the court had prohibited the journalists from travelling abroad in its release order.
The president and two members of the panel of judges who issued release orders for 21 journalists at the first hearing of the trial were suspended by the Supreme Council of Judges and Prosecutors. Cem Küçük, who wrote columns for newspapers known to have adopted a pro-government publishing policy, had stated the following in his social media account: “Every prosecutor and judge will be discharged from duty who ordered the release of apparent FETÖ members.”
Following these incidents, the second hearing of the trial took place on 27 April 2017.
At this hearing, the court heard witnesses testify about the journalists.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 6 July 2017. The panel of judges rejected in its interim decision the demands of remanded journalists and their attorneys to be released at the end of the hearing.
THE SECOND INDICTMENT
The second indictment concerning the 13 journalists who were ordered to be released at the first hearing of the trial, but were detained again as part of a new investigation was presented to the court on 5 June 2017.
The second indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul charged the 13 journalists with “attempting to alter perceptions in line with the aims of the organisation by means of the written and visual media and the internet”.
The second indictment asserted that “there were records indicating Köseli had used the ByLock application that had been found in many court rulings to be a communication tool used by FETÖ”. In addition, the records of Köseli along with other journalists leaving the country, their social media outputs and information concerning their bank account activities were cited as evidence.
The indictment included among the evidence the fact that Köseli had a Social Security Institution registration for the media outlets he worked at and were later shut down. The indictment stated that Köseli was a member of the PAK Medya-İş Union that was shut down by the Statutory Decree 667 issued during the state of emergency declared following the military coup attempt on 15 July. The indictment also included information about the trade union obtained from open sources. During the state of emergency period, the government shut down not only media outlets, but also many associations and trade unions by statutory decrees that were put into effect without the parliament’s approval.
Similar to other defendants, the indictment included Köseli’s Bank Asya account activities. In many similar court cases, having an account with Bank Asya and depositing money to the account on various dates were brought forward as “incriminating” facts. The prosecution asserted that Bank Asya was “FETÖ’s financial source” and Fethullah Gülen called for support after an investigation had commenced concerning the bank.
It was stated that Köseli was not on the list concerning “the individuals who opened new accounts/whose accounts received deposits between 31 December 2013 and 24 December 2014”. However, the indictment asserted that the amount of money in his account occasionally increased/decreased between 2013 December and 2016 July. The same section of the indictment stated that Köseli’s spouse and sibling also had Bank Asya accounts.
This section asserted that Köseli’s sibling was also “remanded on allegations of being a FETÖ member”. It was also stated that Köseli’s communications were monitored. The indictment asserted that Köseli was in contact with 28 people including journalists Ahmet Memiş, Ayşenur Parıldak and Haşim Söylemez, who stood trial over allegations of being “affiliated with FETÖ”. Concerning the people who were on the contact list but were not journalists, it was asserted that “FETÖ/PDY investigation was underway and some of them were in remand”.
The prosecutor asserted that Köseli was in the vicinity of the buildings of the newspaper and the television and the security directorate following the detention of Ekrem Dumanlı and Hidayet Karaca, who were the managers of Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu TV. The prosecutor based these claims on the analysis of the mobile phone signals of Köseli. During the detention of the managers of Zaman newspaper and Samanyolu TV, demonstrations took place outside the newspaper building and the Istanbul Security Directorate.
The indictment included the allegation that 13 defendants including Köseli were “among the media structure of the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organisation”.
Köseli was charged with “attempting to destroy the order stipulated by the Constitution of the Republic of Turkey by means of coercion and violence or replace this order with another or prevent this order from being effectively implemented” in accordance with Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code. The indictment also charged Köseli with “attempting to destroy the government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent it from fulfilling its responsibilities partially or entirely by means of coercion and violence” in accordance with Article 312/1 of the Turkish Penal Code. Within this scope, the prosecution demanded that Köseli be sentenced to two aggravated life sentences.
The first hearing of the trial for the second indictment took place on 16-18 August 2017. The court ordered the trial concerning the journalists to continue by merging the two indictments. Some of the highlights from Köseli’s defensive statement are the following:
“There was something I read in newspapers after I was sent to Silivri [prison], ‘How long does it take to plan a coup?’ I thought about it before the coup. I became unemployed when a public administrator was appointed to Zaman. I wanted to open an antiques store. From March 2016 to July, I worked day and night to open an antiques store.
“On July 15, we went to the European side [of Istanbul] with my father, who had just arrived from Adana, to visit our accountant regarding the establishment procedures for my company. So your argument is that while I was aware that there was to be a coup that day, I was still trying to open a store. This is why I’m at Silivri [prison].
“While some people were planning to perform a coup against an elected government, did I contribute to this coup by opening an antique store?
“If you decide to continue to keep me in remand, please do not put down risk of flight. When a detention order was issued for me, I went to the Bakırköy Courthouse voluntarily and I asked the police whether there was an order concerning me. They said, “There isn’t any, come back tomorrow”. When I insisted, they called TEM (Directorate of Counter-Terrorism), and then officers from TEM arrived. I spent two hours trying to get myself detained.
“I worked as a correspondent for Zaman for five years. We needed to get permission from three different managers when we just wanted to take a cab from the newspaper to Taksim. My job was to write news articles and deliver them. I only learned whether it was published or not the next morning, along with the readers. I’ve never participated in an editorial meeting.
“I did not apply to the ECtHR. I think the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, meaning you, has the power to release me. If justice is to be served, I want it to be served by you.
“Why was my release order not respected? My colleagues at Cumhuriyet newspaper were released and re-joined their loved ones. We were glad. But why weren’t we released? We were greatly humiliated that day. Do you think we will flee to Europe over the Aegean? There is only one place I’ll go after I am released, my family’s village.”
At the end of the hearing the court ruled that Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar, who were being tried on remand, be released pending trial. The court ruled other defendants should remain in custody.
The first hearing of the trial that continued after the two indictments were merged took place on 24-25 October 2017. The panel of judges had changed for the third time at this hearing of the trial. The president of the court read out the documents submitted to the court concerning Bank Asya and ByLock at this hearing.
The first hearing following the merging of the indictments took place on 24-25 October 2017.
The second hearing of the trial that continued after the two indictments were merged took place on 3-4 December 2017. Six witnesses were heard at the hearing. The court ruled that all defendants in remand should remain in remand.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 8 February 2018. The prosecutor presented the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations in this hearing.
The opinion of the prosecution demanded that Bünyamin Keseli be acquitted of charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order by means of coercion and violence” and “attempting to destroy the Government of the Republic of Turkey by means of coercion and violence”. However, the prosecution demanded that Bünyamin Keseli be sentenced over the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The fourth hearing of the trial took place on 21-22 February 2018. Köseli explained that he opened a store and became an antiques dealer after he was released. Köseli said: “When I was a journalist, I wanted to be a good intellectual, I always reported on this kind of news and acted in good conscience. What I see here is a paradoxical mistake. I never had anything to hide. I continued to use the same phone line after I was released. I did research not only on the DHKP-C but also various other organisations. This is because I like researching”.
The final hearing of the trial took place on 7-8 March 2018. During the sessions that lasted for two days, defensive statements against the opinion of the prosecution were heard. Then, the court asked for final statements. The panel of judges delivered its ruling on 8 March 2018.
The court sentenced Köseli to six years and three months of imprisonment on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The Appeals Process
Journalist Bünyamin Köseli launched an appeal against the imprisonment sentence at the court of appeals.
The appeals process was carried out by the 2nd Penal Chamber of the Istanbul Circuit Courts of Appeals. The Chamber delivered its ruling on 22 October 2018.
The appeal was rejected in substance. The ruling found that the ruling of the local court was lawful by methods and procedures. It was asserted that “the evidence in the file was sufficient to establish the crime”.
The Court of Cassation Process
Bünyamin Köseli filed an application with the Court of Cassation against the approved prison sentence.
The appeals process was conducted by the 16th Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation. The attorneys demanded that the appeals process be conducted by means of hearings. However, their demands were rejected. The Chamber delivered its ruling on 16 March 2020.
The chamber approved the prison sentence concerning Köseli. The Court of Cassation ruled that the procedures concerning Köseli were carried out lawfully, all evidence was collected in accordance with the law and the defensive statements were heard in full. It was stated that the ruling was based on inequivalent, consistent and non-conflicting data.
The prison sentence was then finalised.
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