Habip Güler was a parliamentary correspondent for the now-closed Zaman newspaper.
Zaman newspaper was initially appointed a public administrator by court order. The newspaper was 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.
Following the closure of Zaman newspaper, Güler started working at Yarına Bakış newspaper.
This newspaper was also shut down by a statutory decree. 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.
Güler was detained on 29 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 the same day on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. Güler was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
Güler spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be prepared. The indictment which was completed on 16 January 2017 charged Güler with “membership of an armed organisation”. The prosecution demanded that Güler be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
Güler was released pending trial at the first hearing of the trial on 31 March 2017. However, he was placed in custody again without having been released from prison over the prosecutor’s objection.
At the end of the trial, Güler 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.
Güler was released after having completed his sentence on 10 September 2020.
Güler had been in prison for more than four years when he was released.
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”.
Habip Güler, a correspondent for the now-closed Zaman newspaper was one of the people under investigation.
Güler was detained on 29 July 2016 in Istanbul as part of the investigation. Güler was taken to the Gayrettepe Public Security Branch Office in Istanbul. Güler 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.
Güler was placed in custody the same day on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. He was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
Güler spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be completed. The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, including Habip Güler, was completed on 16 January 2017.
The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists including Habip Güler, a correspondent for the now-closed Zaman newspaper, was completed 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 Güler started on page 153 of the indictment. The indictment stated that Güler was a parliamentary correspondent for Zaman newspaper; he had left the newspaper after a “public administrator” was appointed to it, and he started working at Yarına Bakış newspaper. The indictment also listed Güler’s social media outputs. Some of the social media outputs are as follows:
. “HaberTürk, the printers of Bugün and Millet, did not print these newspapers yesterday due to the threat of [the appointment of a] public administrator. Hürriyet printed them. Thank you brave @Hurriyet.”
. The suspect shared the news article under the headline “‘Meaningful Bank Asya tweet from Habib Güler’ on the Post Medya website that read, ‘Habib Güler, a parliamentary correspondent for Zaman newspaper wrote about the selflessness of a social democrat friend following the Bank Asya operation.’ The news article included the tweet that read ‘To my social democrat friend who withdrew TRY 170,000 from Garanti Bank and deposited the amount with Bank Asya: We have so much to learn from you.’“
.“The law that annuls the high judiciary was approved by Parliament. Judges should be instructed solely by the rules of the law, and not by persons, groups or institutions.”
.“On the 56th anniversary of the 27 May coup, we curse all coup plotters, people who butchered justice, all tyrants and those who exploited the public.”
.“Those who are being accused for their news reports should be tried without arrest. The threat of arrest silences journalists and the truth. #BaransuTutuksuzYargılansın [#BaransuToNeTriedWithoutArrest]”
The indictment also listed Güler’s books that were confiscated during the house search. Books written by Fetullah Gülen and Fetullah Gülen’le 11 gün [11 days With Fetullah Gülen] written by Mehmet Gündem, who was also on trial, were among the confiscated books.
Güler’s Bank Asya account was cited as evidence. The indictment asserted that Güler “had deposited money to Bank Asya on Fethullah Gülen’s instructions after an investigation had commenced concerning the bank”.
It was asserted that Güler’s social media outputs “were in line with the aims of the organisation”. It was asserted that Güler “had discredited investigations that were launched as part of the efforts against the organisation”.
Güler having worked at Yarına Bakış newspaper following the closure of Zaman newspaper formed the basis of the accusations. It was asserted that “Yarına Bakış newspaper was established by the organisation to alter perceptions” following the appointment of “public administrators” to Bugün and Zaman newspapers.
The indictment demanded that Güler be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”.
It was also demanded that Güler “be deprived of the enjoyment of certain rights” in accordance with Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code.
The trial concerning 29 defendants of whom 27 were journalists including Habip Güler, a correspondent for Zaman newspaper, commenced with the hearing at the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27-31 March 2017. Güler 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 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 that 13 journalists be released pending trial. The court added eight more journalists including Habip Güler to the 13 people to be released pending trial. Thus, 31 journalists were 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 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 Habip Güler, 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, the 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 once again detained over the charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” and “attempting a coup” before leaving the prison. They were remanded in custody over the charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the Government of the Republic of Turkey” after 14 days of custody procedures.
Thus, none of the journalists for whom release orders were issued were released on 31 March 2017.
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, including Habip Güler, 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 journalists were charged 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 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. Güler made his defensive statement in this hearing and stated that “he was not an organisation member” and “working at any newspaper would not constitute membership of an organisation”.
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 Güler be sentenced over the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The fourth hearing of the trial took place on 22 February 2018. Barış Topuk, Güler’s attorney, stated that files that a case for membership of an armed terrorist organisation could not be built in the absence of evidence of [means of] violence such as firearms or bombs. Referring to the allegation “altering perceptions by tweeting and reporting”, Topuk said: “The organisation has been misnamed . To us, the organisation is known as TTO: the Tweeting Terrorist Organisation. It is unacceptable that legal precedents are ignored for the sake of counter-terrorism”.
The final hearing of the trial took place on 7-8 March 2018. Defensive statements against the opinion of the prosecution were heard in the two-day-long sessions. After being asked his final say, Güler said: “I proved my innocence for every period. I’ve been missing my children for 20 months. I demand my acquittal and release”.
The panel of judges delivered its ruling on 8 March 2018. The panel of judges ruled that Güler be sentenced to imprisonment of six years and three months on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The court also ruled that Güler should continue to be held in remand.
The Appeals Process
Journalist Habip Güler’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 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
Habip Güler’s attorneys 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 Habip Güler was approved by the Chamber.
The Court of Cassation ruled that the procedures concerning Güler 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 evidence.
The imprisonment sentence concerning Güler was then finalised. The journalist had been in prison for three years and seven months when the imprisonment sentence was finalised.
Güler was released on 10 September 2020 after completing his imprisonment sentence.
He had been in prison for longer than four years when he was released.
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