Cihan Acar was a correspondent for the now-closed Bugün newspaper.
The newspaper was 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.
Acar was detained on 29 July 2016 on allegations of “being affiliated with FETO 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”. Acar was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
Acar 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 prosecution demanded that Acar be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
Acar 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. Acar was placed in custody 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 Acar be sentenced to two aggravated life sentences.
The two indictments were merged.
He was released pending trial at the hearing of the trial held on 18 August 2017.
At the end of the trial, Acar 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.
Following the finalisation of the sentence, Acar was placed in custody again on 23 June 2020.
He has been serving his sentence as a convict in Edirne Prison.
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”.
Cihan Acar, a correspondent for the now-closed Bugün newspaper, was one of the people under investigation.
Acar was detained in Istanbul on 29 July 2016. He was taken to the Gayrettepe Public Security Branch Office in Istanbul.
Acar was taken to the Çağlayan Courthouse the same day. He was referred to the court to be remanded following the prosecutor’s questioning. Acar was then placed in custody on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. He was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
Acar spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be completed. The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, including Cihan Acar, was completed on 16 January 2017.
The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists including Cihan Acar 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 (FETO-PDY)”. This part was identical with the texts in indictments prepared for similar cases.
The allegations against Acar started on page 136 of the indictment.
The indictment stated that Acar had worked for some time at Bugün newspaper to which a “public administrator” was appointed by a court decision, and was fired from the newspaper by the public administrator.
It was asserted that “there were records indicating Acar had used the ByLock application that had been found in many court rulings to be a communication tool used by FETO”. In addition, the records of Acar, along with other journalists, leaving the country, their social media outputs and information concerning their bank account activities were cited as evidence.
The indictment listed Acar’s social media outputs on his social media account regarding the period in which a public administrator was appointed to Bugün newspaper and later the newspaper was shut down. The indictment also listed the following headlines of three articles that were posted on a blog website belonging to Acar:
. “An astounding statement by Yakub Saygılı: There are 21 more investigations.”
. “The 28 February media is on the stage again with 14 December.”
. “Law scandal at Çağlayan Courthouse.”
The indictment stated that during Acar’s detention, digital materials were confiscated from his home. However, the indictment did not include the results of the examination conducted on these materials.
It was asserted that Acar “was altering perceptions on behalf of the organisation”. It was asserted that Acar “attended demonstrations at the Çağlayan Courthouse along with organisation members who were under investigation”. Based on these two allegations, the indictment asserted that Acar “was a member of the organisation”.
The indictment charged Acar with “membership of an armed organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that Acar be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
The indictment was accepted by the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The trial concerning 29 defendants, of whom 27 were journalists, including Cihan Acar, a correspondent for the now-closed Bugün newspaper, commenced with the first hearing at the High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27-31 March 2017. Acar 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 attorney Kaya’s words. 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?”.
The final hearing of the trial took place on 31 March 2017. The prosecutor for the hearing demanded that 13 journalists including Cihan Acar be released pending trial. The court added eight more journalists to the 13 people to be released pending trial. The court ruled that 21 journalists including Abdullah Kılıç be released.
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 FETO 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 the same day, 31 March 2017. The journalists were again remanded in custody before leaving the prison.
On the other hand, a new investigation commenced the same day concerning the 13 journalists whose release the prosecutor for the hearing had demanded and the court ruled accordingly. As part of the new investigation, Cihan Acar 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 for 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 detained again after their release, including Cihan Acar, were brought before the court after the custody procedures had ended, on 14 April 2017. They were remanded by the 2nd Criminal Court of Peace of Istanbul the same day on charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the Government of the Republic of Turkey”.
The arrest warrant included “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 after the release order: “Every prosecutor and judge will be discharged from duty who ordered the release of apparent FETO 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.
Meanwhile, the second indictment concerning the 13 journalists who were ordered to be released at the first hearing of the trial, but were detained again based on a new investigation was presented to the court on 5 June 2017.
The second indictment by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of İstanbul charged the 13 journalists including Cihan Acar 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 indictment included among the evidence the fact that Acar had a Social Security Institution registration with the publishing company of the newspaper he worked at, as it did for other journalists. It was stated that these companies were also “shut down by Statutory Decrees issued due to FETO affiliation”.
The indictment also included the information that Acar was a member of the PAK Medya-İş Union and that the trade union had been shut down by a statutory decree issued as part of the state of emergency rule. 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.
The indictment included Acar’s Bank Asya account activities. Bank Asya had been found in many court rulings to be “one of the FETO’s financial institutions’‘. It was asserted that Acar “deposited money upon the instructions of Fetullah Gülen after the bank was put under investigation”. The indictment asserted that Acar performed 366 transactions in these accounts between 3 January 2013 and 26 October 2015.
It was asserted that Acar was “in contact with people who were under investigation and on trial on FETO allegations”. This allegation was based on the investigation to identify his communications. In addition, the indictment asserted that Acar “had installed on his phone the ByLock application that had been found in many court rulings to be a communication tool used by FETO”.
The indictment charged Acar 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 Acar 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 Acar be sentenced to two aggravated life sentences. The prosecution also demanded that Acar’s sentence be increased by half in accordance with Article 5 of the Law on Anti-Terrorism.
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.
Acar made his first defensive statement in this hearing. Starting his defensive statement with a quote from the movie The Green Mile, Acar said: “I’m tired, your honours”. Acar reminded that he had produced dozens of news reports on education, Soma [mine collapse], Suruç [bomb attack], refugees and the environment. Some of the highlights from Acar’s defensive statement are the following:
“I did not report any news in line with any organisation; I was put in prison at the age of 27 and spent my entire 28th year of life in prison. I have no secrets or anything to hide; my life is transparent to the end. Despite such a clean background, I was charged with terrorist organisation membership and attempting a coup.
My family waited for me in prison for eight hours because they didn’t know. I’m tired because it wasn’t just me who was detained that day; it was my family who was put on trial. My first question was: ‘Is my mother alive?’ Then I learned that my mother had a mental breakdown, my sister told me that she couldn’t console my six-year-old nephew who came to see me.
People whose names I have never heard of, people who didn’t know me claimed that I wounded the public conscience with my release. How does my release wound the public conscience when my arrest wasn’t even worth reporting? Would such an indictment be written if I wasn’t released?”
Stating that he had been deprived of his freedom for 13 months, Acar said: “I’m not remanded; I’m just a person who is being held in prison. No pain I’ve gone through so far was as bitter as standing here today trying to prove that I’m not a terrorist, trying to convince you that I’m just a journalist. I’ve worked as a correspondent for three and a half years; I’ve spent half my time in this profession in prison. I’m in the spring of my life, yet I’m spending the best years of my life in prison.”
Acar demanded to be released and stating that it wasn’t possible for him to flee, said: “You say that I spent 13 months in prison and longed for my family, and I’ll flee when I’m released? If I am to be released, my mother wouldn’t even let me leave the house.”
After his defensive statement, the court ruled that Acar be released pending trial.
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 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 remanded defendants should be kept 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 Cihan Acar 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 Cihan Acar be sentenced on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The fourth hearing of the trial took place on 22-23 February 2018. Acar made his defensive statement on the second day. Acar stated that he faced a significant sentence despite his very brief career in journalism.
After saying “I’ll keep my defensive statement as brief and clear as my career”, Acar stated that he shared the 10 tweets that were used against him in the indictment after a public administrator was appointed to Zaman newspaper. Acar said: “If one were to undo just these two hours in my life, would I be here?” Underlining that the other news articles that were similarly used against him were news articles that were requested from him, Acar said: “I loved journalism, I even received an award. I relied on the assurance of the law and my conscience while I practiced my profession.”
The final hearing of the trial took place on 7-8 March 2018. When asked for his final statement, Acar said: “I didn’t live according to others’ will. Here I stand before you. I respect the decision you’ll make. The only thing I want is my freedom. I demand my acquittal”. The panel of judges delivered its ruling on 8 March 2018.
The court sentenced Acar to six years and three months of imprisonment on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The Appeals Process
Journalist Cihan Acar’s attorneys 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
Journalist Acar’s attorneys filed an application with the Court of Cassation against the approved imprisonment 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 ruling concerning Acar was approved.
The Court of Cassation ruled that the procedures concerning these journalists 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 unequivocal, consistent and non-conflicting data.
The imprisonment sentences concerning the said journalists were then finalised. With the finalisation, Acar was remanded again on 23 June 2020.
Acar has been serving the prison sentence as a convict at Edirne Prison.
The Constitutional Court Process
Journalist Cihan Acar filed an application with the Constitutional Court on 22 May 2017.
He asserted that “the right to security”, “the freedom of press”, “the right to respect for privacy and family life” and “the right to a fair trial” had been violated.
The Constitutional Court ruled on 27 February 2020 that the rights of Acar had been violated due to having been detained for the second time after his release.
The court ruled that Acar be paid TRY 30,000 in compensation.
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