Cuma Ulus worked at Sabah newspaper, TGRT TV and HaberTürk TV. He worked at the now-closed Zaman newspaper. He was the editor-in-chief of the now-closed Millet newspaper.
Cuma Ulus was the executive producer of the now-closed Can Erzincan TV.
Zaman newspaper and Can Erzincan TV were shut down by statutory decrees 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.
Ulus was detained on 26 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 30 July 2016 on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. Ulus was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
The court ruled Ulus to be released pending trial at the hearing held on 31 March 2017. He was placed in custody again the same day without having been released from prison over the prosecutor’s objection.
Ulus spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be prepared. The indictment that was completed on 16 January 2017 charged him with “membership of an armed organisation”. The prosecution demanded that Ulus be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
At the end of the trial process, Ulus was sentenced to imprisonment of seven years and six 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.
Ulus has been serving his sentence as a convict at Silivri 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”.
Cuma Ulus, the executive producer of the now-closed Can Erzincan TV was one of the people under investigation.
Ulus was detained on 26 July 2016 in Istanbul as part of the investigation. He was taken to the Gayrettepe Public Security Branch Office in Istanbul.
Ulus was referred to the court following the procedures at the security directorate on 30 July 2016. He was referred to the court to be remanded following the prosecutor’s questioning. Ulus was then placed in custody on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. Ulus 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 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, including Ulus was completed on 16 January 2017.
The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, including Cuma Ulus, the executive producer of the now-closed Can Erzincan TV 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 Ulus started on page 138 of the indictment. The indictment stated that Ulus had worked at media organs such as Sabah newspaper, TGRT and HaberTürk, and he was most recently the editor-in-chief of Millet newspaper. It was asserted that Millet newspaper was a “media organ of FETÖ”. In addition, the records of Ulus 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 Ulus’s statement that was published in the now-closed Cihan News Agency and other newspapers on 29 October 2015. Ulus stated the following regarding the closure of the newspaper he worked for:
“Yesterday was a dark day for us. Our newspaper office was raided by the police, the doors were broken down. Yesterday was in fact a dark day for Turkey. They silenced Millet newspaper, Bugün newspaper, Bugün TV, and Kanaltürk TV, which were the people’s voices. Today, a termination of service contract, which would normally be carried out by human resources, was carried out in the company of two police officers.”
The prosecutor asserted that Millet newspaper “was a newspaper used for altering perceptions on behalf of the organisation”.
The indictment listed Ulus’s social media outputs on his social media account which were evaluated as elements of a crime. Some of the outputs are as follows:
.“Retweeting the post sent from the address @CanErzincan_TV, ‘ANNOUNCEMENT TO THE PUBLIC, Can Erzincan TV’s broadcast was unlawfully interrupted by TÜRKSAT on 17 July 2016. Announcement to the public. CAN ERZİCAN TV.’”
.“Sharing the post from the address @CumaUlus, ‘Thanks to everyone who watched and shared Can Erzincan via Hotbird. #CanErzincanHotbirdde#’; ‘The new address for freedom #CanErzincanHotbirdde#’; ‘Can Erzincan TV is being censored! #Censor.’”
.“It is the nation’s right for all trials to be carried out publicly, because the coup attempt was carried out against the entire public. A commission in which all political parties that received a vote of more than one per cent have equal voting rights should be formed immediately. The work of this commission at every stage should be open to the public. The connections of coup plotters should be detected and exposed. Taking advantage of the coup attempt and turning the country into a one-party regime is unacceptable and is just as unlawful as the coup itself. Protecting thousands of lawyers at every level who were unlawfully detained would be the true indicator of the opposition’s adherence to democracy. Discharging military personnel and lawyers who were against the coup over allegations of staging a coup with political motives is unconscientious to say the least.”
.“The new address for freedom, #CanErzincanHotbirdde”
.“It is time for solidarity to say ‘stop’ to oppression, detention and censorship. Did you know? Journalism is not a crime.”
.“They issue detention orders for journalists and try to arrest them, then have a joyous time thinking they escaped. Tarık Toros appears to be in London. Is he there for the holidays?”
.“Retweeting the post from the address @ahmemis, ‘How did they organise an armed attack against Can Dündar, in the courthouse at that? Enough with the stories. No opposition figure has safety of life and property.’”
The indictment charged Ulus with “membership of an armed organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that Ulus be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years. It was also demanded that Ulus “be deprived of the enjoyment of certain rights” in accordance with Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code.
The trial concerning 29 individuals, of whom 27 were journalists, including Cuma Ulus, the executive producer of the now-closed Can Erzincan TV, commenced with the first hearing at the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27-31 March 2017.
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 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 the 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 13 defendants be released pending trial. The court added eight more journalists, including Cuma Ulus, to the 13 people to be released pending trial. Thus, 21 journalists were released. The court prohibited the journalists from leaving the country.
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, including Cuma Ulus the same day on 31 March 2017.
The prosecutor for the hearing asserted in the objection regarding the release of the eight journalists whose release had not been demanded by the prosecution that “evidence against the defendants was not collected fully” and “the release order was nonprocedural and illegal”.
The prosecutor’s demand was processed the same day by the 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, the upper court for the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which issued the release order. Despite the release order, eight journalists were not released from prison and were remanded in custody again.
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. The journalists were charged with “attempting a coup” and “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 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 the “risk of flight” of the journalists as a justification. However, the court had prohibited the journalists from travelling abroad in its release order.
Ali Akkuş who was detained despite the release order was released pending trial following the custody procedures.
The president and two members of the panel of judges who issued the 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 June 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 end of the first hearing of the trial, but were detained again as part of a new investigation was presented to the same court on 5 June 2017.
The second indictment charged the journalists with “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” in line with Articles 309/1 and 312/1 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that the journalists 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.
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. After the president of the court read out the documents submitted to the court concerning “Bank Asya accounts and ByLock use”, defendant journalists and their attorneys briefly spoke.
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 Cuma Ulus be sentenced on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. Concerning a social media output that was used against him, Ulus said: “I had written: ‘Now is the time for solidarity, journalism is not a crime. Should I’ve said ‘journalism is a crime’?” Ulus asked what kind of activities to alter perceptions he could have carried out when he had just 275 followers on Twitter. Attorneys also criticised the relevant allegations.
The final hearing of the trial took place on 7-8 March 2018.
Ömer Kavili, Ulus’s attorney, stated that the decryption of the UYAP [National Judicial Network Informatics System] records of the previous session and the file were not sent to him and Ulus. The president of the court did not want to let attorney Kavili speak. The judge said: “We are giving you the right to defend yourself, it is up to you whether you’ll use it or not”. In response, Kavili said: “We will make our defensive statement if you send the files to my office. My client will similarly make his defensive statement. There can be no proceeding without evidence, you are conducting an illegal proceeding” and stated that he would leave the chamber. The said “remove Mr Attorney from the chamber”. Kavili left the hearing room.
The panel of judges delivered its ruling on 8 March 2018.
The panel of judges ruled that Ulus be acquitted of charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the Government of the Republic of Turkey or prevent it from fulfilling its responsibilities”. However, the court ruled that Ulus be sentenced to imprisonment of seven years and six months on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The court ruled that Ulus should continue to be held in remand.
The Appeals Process
Journalist Cuma Ulus’ 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 Chamber found that the ruling of the local court was lawful according to the methods and procedures. It was asserted that “the evidence in the file was sufficient for establishing the crime”.
The Court of Cassation Process
Journalist Cuma Ulus brought the ruling approved by the court of appeals before the Court of Cassation.
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 imprisonment sentence concerning Cuma Ulus was approved by the Chamber.
The Court of Cassation ruled that the procedures concerning the 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 sentence concerning Cuma Ulus was then finalised. Ulus had been in prison for three years and seven months when the imprisonment sentence was finalised.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.