Güray Tekin Öz is the ombudsman and writer of the Cumhuriyet Newspaper. He was prosecuted in the Cumhuriyet trial and spent 9 months in prison. He was convicted for “aiding a terrorist organization, although he does not belong to the structure of that organisation” and sentenced to 3 years and 9 months of prison. After the Court of Appeal approved the verdict, he had to return to prison to complete the remaining 1 year and 23 days of his sentence. Öz’s lawyers appealed the verdict.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation presented an opinion on the reversal of sentencing the defendants and added that they should be acquitted. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office demanded that a possible decision on the acquittal of the defendants after a retrial, those whose sentences were approved by the Court of Appeal should be put into account along with Güray Tekin Öz.
The Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber reversed the decision of sentencing the defendants. Upon the decision, Güray Tekin Öz was released from the Kandıra F Type Prison, where he was detained for 4,5 months.
Upon the request of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Istanbul 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled for an arrest warrant for the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s managers and employees on Oct. 31, 2016. Güray Öz was among them.
Güray Öz was arrested at his home and taken to Istanbul. The police who searched Öz’s residence confiscated some of the digital materials.
Öz testified to Murat İnam, the prosecutor who has been conducting the investigation, while he was under custody at Istanbul Police Headquarters on Nov. 4, 2016. In his testimony, Öz said that he had been a board member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation since 2014 and was also the newspaper’s ombudsman; that the editorial policy of the Cumhuriyet newspaper had never changed, that it was always opposed to FETÖ/PDY [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure, the name which the Turkish government uses to refer to the followers of Fethullah Gülen, who is in a self-imposed exile in the US and allegedly orchestrated a coup on 15th of July, 2016] and PKK/KCK [a militant Kurdish group].
Prosecutor İnam sent eight Cumhuriyet employees and managers, including Öz, to the Istanbul 9th Criminal Court of Peace with the request for arrest for all of them on Nov. 4, 2016. The court ruled for pretrial detention of Öz for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” (TPC 220/7] on November 5, 2016.
It was revealed that the investigation’s prosecutor Murat İnam was prosecuted in the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber for 10 charges, including “attempting to abolish the government.” Upon this development, İnam was dismissed from the investigation and replaced with 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.
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.
In the indictment, Öz was charged for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” (TPC 220/7) and “abuse of trust” (TPC 155). In the indictment, it was claimed that Öz was responsible for the alleged change in the newspaper’s editorial policy.
The Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment on April 19, 2017. Some of the workers of the Cumhuriyet newspaper were among the witnesses.
The first hearing of the trial was held in the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court in Çağlayan on July 24, 2017.
In his defense, Öz denied all the accusations. Stating that he has been a journalist since 1990, Öz said, “As a journalist who worked for a secular, democratic republic, who is loyal to the principles of journalism, I strongly refuse the accusation of supporting the organizations which are pro-sharia, coup-plotting and use terrorist actions; and the accusation of “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization.”
“In the indictment, there isn’t any evidence which proves that I am affiliated with terrorist organizations,” said Öz.
Regarding the accusation of “being in contact with a person who has been investigated for FETÖ affiliation,” Güraz Öz said, that person was a restaurant worker and he learned that from the investigation against this person, the prosector’s office ruled for the decision of non-prosecution.
Güray Öz noted that journalism cannot be prosecuted.
The court ruled to release Güray Öz along with six of the 12 imprisoned journalists on July 28, 2017, with a travel ban under judicial control.
In the seventh hearing which was held on March 16, 2018, the prosecutor Hacı Hasan Bölükbaşı explained his opinion on the accusations and recommended to punish Güray Öz for “aiding terrorist organizations.”
The final hearing of the trial was held on April 25, 2018. In his last defense and last word, Öz pleaded not guilty and said the following terms:
“In our laws, there isn’t any crime such as changing a newspaper’s editorial policy. In fact, prosecuting journalism is a difficult job. The indictment which incorporated the Cumhuriyet newspaper with terror and accusing it of Fethullahism is an insult to anyone’s intellect. I hope you will not do such a thing. Because insulting people’s intellect is an inappropriate action for the intellectuals of Turkey. It is the price of the choice of being an intellectual.”
The court reached a verdict on April 25, 2018. In its verdict, the court found Güray Tekin Öz guilty for “aiding and abetting terrorist organizations PKK, DHKP-C [a far left organization called Revolutionary People’s Salvation Party-Front] and FETÖ/PDY knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of those organizations” and sentenced him to 3 years and 9 months of prison.
In the reasoning of the verdict, the court stated that “When the change in the editorial and managing positions started and newspaper mentioned along with [as a supporter of] FETÖ/PDY, PKK/KCK and DHKP-C, the CUMOK [“Cumhuriyet Okurları” - “Readers of Cumhuriyet” a society which was formed by some of the readers of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, of which Istanbul coordinator Namık Kemal Boya was among the witnesses] protested.” The following claims were included in the statement:
“ …CUMOK published a statement when the defendant was in an influent position at the board of the foundation and criticized the change in publications and in the positions which could contribute to the newspaper’s shift.”
“But the defendant didn’t try to solve this issue as the ombudsman of the newspaper and moreover, since the beginning of his term in the board of foundation; the reports which criticized and even belittled the public stance against the coup attempt, the MIT trucks report and the interviews with PKK leaders were published one after another. Therefore, the defendant was already among the group that served and aided the terrorist organizations.”
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.
In the Court of Appeal’s decision, it was stated that there was no unlawfulness in the local court’s verdict regarding the procedure or the merits of the case. The Court of Appeal did not find any deficiencies either in the evidences or in the processing of the local court’s file. It ruled taht the local court’s actions were accurate and complied with the crime types that were prevenient by the law. It also ruled that the decisions of sentencing was lawful.
The Court of Cassation
The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation presented an opinion on the reversal of sentencing the Cumhuriyet Newspaper’s other workers and added that they should be acquitted. The Chief Prosecutor’s Office demanded that a possible decision on the acquittal of the defendants after a retrial, those whose sentences were approved by the Court of Appeal should be put into account along with Güray Tekin Öz.
The Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber reversed the decision of sentencing the defendants. Upon the decision, Güray Tekin Öz was released from the Kandıra F Type Prison, where he was detained for 4,5 months along with Hakan Kara and Musa Kart.
In the reasoned decision of 16th Penal 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.
When the decision of the first instance court was reversed, Musa Kart, Hakan Kara and Güray Tekin Öz were availed of the decision.
In the decision, these expressions were used about Musa Kart, Hakan Kara and Güray Tekin Öz who were sentenced to less than 5 years in prison and thus could not appeal to the Court of Cassation:
“The defendants who are being prosecuted in the scope of the same case cannot be sentenced to different impositions of penalty. This hinders the manifestation of justice, decreases trust to the judicial authorities and contradict with the principles of equality and fairness…”
The retrial of all the defendants will start at the Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court.
The Constitutional Court
Ten defendants, including Güray Öz have applied to the Constitutional Court on Dec. 6, 2016. The concerned branch of the court sent Öz’s file to the General Assembly of the Court in July 2018.
The General Assembly of the Constitutional Court reached a decision on May 2, 2019 about Musa Kart, Hakan Kara and Güray Tekin Öz. The Constitutional Court ruled that there was no violation of personal liberty or security rights and the freedom of press or expression.
The Court pointed out that the journalist on trial were managers of the Cumhuriyet Newspaper. Therefore, they were influential in determining the publishing policy and they were responsible for the news reports and articles published by it.
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)