Kadri Gürsel is a former columnist for the Cumhuriyet Newspaper and a chairman of the International Press Institute’s Turkish National Committee. Gürsel started his journalism career at the Yeni Gündem weekly news magazine in 1986. He worked as the İstanbul correspondent for Cumhuriyet, Sabah and AFP. He wrote for the Cumhuriyet Newspaper for a brief time. He also worked for the Milliyet newspaper from 1998 to 2015, when his contract terminated. After the change in management, he quitted his job at the newspaper. He was prosecuted for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” (TPC 220/7). He spent 11 months of the investigation and prosecution in jail. The prosecutor recommended a punishment of up to 15 years for him. At the end of the trial, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. The Court of Appeal approved the verdict. Kadri Gürsel was arrested and sent to the Metris Prison on May 19, 2019. Yet, he was released drawing on the probation decrees.
When the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office conducted an operation against the Cumhuriyet Newspaper’s managers and employees on Oct. 31, 2016, Kadri Gürsel was working as a columnist and editorial consultant for the newspaper. In the morning of the operation, Kadri Gürsel who learned there was an arrest warrant for him, surrendered himself at the İstanbul Police Headquarters.
Gürsel testified to the prosecutor Özgür Metin in the İstanbul Police Headquarters. In his testimony, Gürsel said he had been working as a columnist for the Cumhuriyet newspaper and also was the editorial consultant for the newspaper, that the newspaper was advocating the secular and democratic values of the Republic, and that he did not accept any of the accusations.
Prosecutor Metin sent Kadri Gürsel to the İstanbul 9th Criminal Court of Peace with a request for arrest on Nov. 5, 2016. In his interrogation at the court, Gürsel said he had been the editorial consultant of the Cumhuriyet newspaper since Sept. 20, 2016, and stressed that the editorial consultant has no power on the determination of the editorial policy. Kadri Gürsel continued as follows:
“If you jail me, I will feel so victimized. My name is mentioned only once. Just one of my articles was quoted. Because I started to work in this newspaper on May 10, 2016, as a columnist. If I had started earlier, the vicious people would have quoted me even more. I would have to attempt a coup d’etat with my article in a subliminal way. My writings titled, “Erdoğan babamız olmak istiyor” [“Erdoğan wants to be our father”] are satirical writings. It is a political criticism of the President’s approach on smoking. Some unknown person claimed that I was sharing a subliminal message. However, I did not. My writings are straight forward. This is a satirical article. I gaze this logic of alleged legitimization of the coup through this article in astonishment.”
The judge ruled to detain Kadri Gürsel for “acting on behalf of the organization.” In the reasoning of the verdict, the court quoted the following terms of Gürsel’s article “Erdoğan wants to be our father”:
“If Erdoğan wants to be our father against our will, then the only thing that Turkey needs is a rebellious child just like Muhammed Buazizi, who sparked the fire which overthrew the Tunisian dictator. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that one should burn himself or herself like Buazizi but one should light a cigarette and shouldn’t put it out. Smoking is bad for the health. But an evil father is worse than smoking.”
On Nov. 2, 2016, it was revealed that the investigation’s prosecutor, Murat İnam, was a defendant in a trial which was continuing in the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber. İnam was accused for 10 charges, including “attempting to abolish the government.” Despite this fact, İnam continued to work on the Cumhuriyet investigation until April 3, 2017.
In the indictment, İnam’s signature wasn’t included, he was assigned to the investigation bureau. The ones who signed the indictment were Mehmet Akif Ekinci, the deputy of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor, and Yasemin Baba, a junior prosecutor with the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Mehmet Akif Ekinci, the deputy of the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor, and Yasemin Baba, a junior prosecutor with the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, issued the Cumhuriyet indictment on April 3, 2017. The case against 19 people, including Kadri Gürsel, was opened.
The indictment was published by Nazif Karaman, a reporter for the pro-government Sabah newspaper, even before it was delivered to the defendants. The main accusation in the indictment was the editorial policy change, which was seen as helping FETÖ/PDY [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization - The followers of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamist living in self-imposed exile in the US that is accused of orchestrating a 15th of July coup attempt. The Turkish government declared FETÖ as a terrorist organization, and was approved by Turkish courts in 2016], DHKP-C [Revolutionist People’s Salvation Party-Front, a far left organization] and PKK/KCK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a militant Kurdish group].
In the indictment, this accusation wasn’t directed by the prosecutors. The prosecutor’s office directed this accusation through the “communication expert” Ünal Aydemir and witnesses. The prosecutor’s office witnesses were Cem Küçük, Hüseyin Gülerce, Latif Erdoğan, Alev Coşkun, Rıza Zelyut, Mehmet Faraç, Ceyhan Mumcu, Şükran Soner, Nail İnal, Talat Atila, İbrahim Yıldız, Ali Açar, İnan Kıraç, Mustafa Pamukoğlu, Nevzat Tüfekçioğlu and Namık Kemal Boya.
In the indictment, it was recommended to convict Kadri Gürsel for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” and asked for up 15 years of imprisonment. In the indictment, Gürsel was accused for having communication logs with 92 ByLock [ByLock is a communication application regarded as evidence of FETÖ membership by the Turkish courts] users and 21 people who were subjected to investigation for affiliation with FETÖ.
In the indictment it was claimed that in his article titled, “Erdoğan wants to be our father” which was published three days before the coup attempt (July 12, 2016), Kadri Gürsel “was openly and directly targeting the President of Turkish Republic; trying to create a perception of Turkey as if it is an authoritarian country, and he was responsible for the radical shift in the editorial policy which serves the manipulative aims of the terrorist organizations FETÖ/PDY [Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure] and PKK/KCK .
In the indictment, Hüseyin Gülerce and Latif Erdoğan, who were managers of the Fethullah Gülen congregation, Cem Küçük, a pro-government journalist who praised the Congregation when the AKP government was partnered with the Congregation and some of the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s employees, were presented as prosecution witnesses.
Besides that, in the indictment, Şükran Soner, Nail İnal, Talat Atilla, Rıza Zelyut, Mehmet Faraç, İbrahim Yıldız, Ali Açar, Aykut Küçükkaya, Ceyhan Mumcu, İnan Kıraç, Alev Coşkun, Mustafa Pamukoğlu, Nevzat Tüfekçioğlu were also presented as witnesses.
The first hearing of the trial was held on “Press Day” on July 14, 2017, in İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court. In his defense, Gürsel first explained the communication logs which were alleged to be with people who were ByLock users:
“The alleged communications were unilateral. Eighty-five of them were SMS’s which I delivered. Seventeen of them called me for once. I didn’t reply to any of the texts so it cannot be considered as communication. It can only be considered the contrary, an effort to communicate with me. And these efforts failed. In other words, these people have communication logs with me, but I don’t have communication logs with them. Moreover, nearly all of these SMS’s were sent to me between the dates of July 14, 2014, and Aug. 1, 2014. Over these five days, 77 people sent 150 SMS’s to me. The reason of this density is that the Congregation members organized a campaign against the police operation that targeted journalists in that period of time. The reason why they tried to reach me in those five days, I believe, is because I am an independent and critical journalist. However, it is obvious that their effort to seek my support was unfruitful.”
Kadri Gürsel noted that in the alleged communication log with 112 people, only 12 of them were real exchanges and five of them were ByLock users. “I communicated with those five people as a journalist in a legitimate base. It was impossible for me to be aware these people were ByLock users in 2015,” Gürsel said. Gürsel said that he called Mehmet Altan to give his condolences when his father Mehmet Altan passed away.
Responding to the prosecutor’s accusation that he was responsible for “the radical shift in the editorial policy which serves the manipulative aims of the terrorist organizations FETÖ/PDY and PKK/KCK”, Gürsel defended himself as in follows:
“These accusations are baseless. I never had an authority to sign in Yenigün News Agency [The publishing company of the Cumhuriyet newspaper]. Trying to link my position as the editorial consultant with the alleged, or I can say the so-called shift, in the editorial policy is unreasonable and irrational, it is a fool’s errand. Because, first of all, my position as the editorial consultant, which I was able to perform only for 34 days between Sept. 27, 2016, to Oct. 31, 2016, the day I got arrested, I had no authority to determinate or change the newspaper’s editorial policy.”
“The second reason is the answer of the question of how and when can someone like me, who was able to perform his duty as editorial consultant only for 34 days, would be able to shift the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editorial policy so radically.”
“In the indictment, it was claimed that the Cumhuriyet newspaper was so to say confiscated by FETÖ/PDY since 2013, and the editorial policy shifted in last three years. If so, how could I participate this act of editorial policy shift? I couldn’t commit this so-called crime through my twice-a-week articles which I started to write only five and a half months before I was arrested. Because a columnist could only express his own opinions and those opinions cannot be binding for the newspaper.”
“The claim that as the editorial consultant who wasn’t a decision maker and without executive power, me participating in the so-called crime of the editorial shift in the past three years within the 34 days before Oct. 31, 2016, the day I got arrested, is astonishing.”
Regarding the article titled, “Erdoğan wants to be our father”, for which he was accused, Kadri Gürsel defended himself in the following terms:
“In my article, which was published on July 12, 2016, I satirized and criticized the President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s political culture and mindset, which I found too oppressive, and reflected on his stance of anti-smoking. The prosecutor’s office was trying to fabricate a crime by stressing that I was targeting the President himself openly and directly in this article. And I should explicitly say that there is no crime as ‘targeting the President himself openly and directly.’ On the contrary, a good journalist would target openly and directly in his or her criticism. If this is about the discourse and the fulfillment of the President, one would criticize openly and directly to make his or her critic comprehensible. In addition to that, there couldn’t be any law which would immunize the President from any criticism or there isn’t any practice, which suggests criticizing the President only indirectly or by implying. Again, I am accused of creating a perception that Turkey has an authoritarian regime through this article. This isn’t a legal accusation but a political one. A journalist’s job is not creating a perception but evaluating the facts objectively. If a journalist expresses an opinion, he or she would back that opinion with facts. My accused writing consists of an opinion which was backed with firm facts and confirmed.”
Stating the fact that publishing date of the article was three days before the coup attempt was a coincidence, Gürsel noted he wrote this article after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan participated in the NATO summit in Warsaw and confiscated the Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov’s cigarette package on July 9, 2016.
After five days of defenses, the first hearing of the trial ended on July 28, 2018. The court ruled for the release seven defendants. Kadri Gürsel was among the defendants for whom the court ruled to be remanded in prison.
The second hearing of the trial was held in Silivri Prison, on Sept. 11, 2017. In the hearing Emre İper, the accountant of the Cumhuriyet newspaper who was accused of being a ByLock user, defended himself and plead not guilty. Then, the former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper İbrahim Yıldız and the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s employees Miyase İlknur and Aykut Küçükkaya testified as witnesses in the hearing. After the testimonies of the witnesses, the court collected the defendant’s requests for release.
In his statement, Kadri Gürsel said, “The reason why I am prosecuted here is not that I have been called by the ByLock users but that I am an opponent. If the ByLock users’ calls would have been the only reason then all of the Turkish citizens would have to be in this defendant seat. I am prosecuted because of my thoughts and my journalistic practice. My only request from you is a fair trial. With a collapsed justice, Turkey’s survival would also be in danger.”
The court ruled for the continuation of Gürsel’s arrest due to a strong criminal suspicion, because some of the witnesses still didn’t testify and to protect the evidence. Court member judge Halit İçdemir voted in favor of release for Gürsel.
The third hearing of the trial was held on Sept. 25, 2017. In the hearing, the former board members of the Cumhuriyet Foundation Alev Coşkun and Ruza Zelyut testified as witnesses. At the end of the hearing, Kadri Gürsel court ruled for Gürsel’s release.
In the seventh hearing which was held on March 16, 2017, the prosecutor Hacı Hasan Bölükbaşı explained his opinion regarding the accusations. Prosecutor Bölükbaşı recommended convicting Kadri Gürsel for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization.”
The final hearing of the trial was held on April 24-25, 2017. In his last defense, Kadri Gürsel rejected the accusation of “calling for an uprising with his article ‘Erdoğan wants to be our father’.” Noting that he was accused for his position as the editorial consultant he said, “The Cumhuriyet newspaper is not an illegal organization, therefore I cannot be accused of being a member of such an organization, so what am I accused of? Participating in the meetings where the reports were presented. It is obvious that they try to show journalism as a crime. The prosecutor’s accusations against me are baseless, without any evidence, unreasonable and irrational. I was wrongfully imprisoned for 11 months and my right to fair trial was violated.”
In his last words, Kadri Gürsel said:
“We were imprisoned because we are journalists and we practice journalism. Journalism has been accused. The evidence they presented us was related to the journalism practice. This Cumhuriyet trial will take its place in history as one where journalism was both the accused and the defendant. We walk away from this courtroom with our heads held high. And we will continue to work as journalists.”
The court reached a verdict on April 25, 2018. The court convicted Kadri Gürsel for “aiding and abetting illegal armed terrorist organizations such as PKK, DHKP-C, and FETÖ/PDY knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of aforementioned organizations” and sentenced him for 2 years and 6 months of prison.
The İstanbul Regional Court of Justice’s 3rd Panel Chamber approved the verdict on Feb. 18, 2019. Regarding the time Gürsel spent in prison during the prosecution, he completed his sentence. Therefore he would not be jailed again.
At the Cumhuriyet Newspaper Trial, an appeal process continued at the Court of Cassation about the defendants who were sentenced to more than 5 years in prison.Mücahit Erdoğan and Turan Kuloğlu, the chief public prosecutors of the Court of Cassation, presented their letter of notification about the file to the 16th Penal Chamber on July 16, 2019. They demanded that the firdt innstance courts’ verdicts of prison sentence be removed. It was also demanded that a possible decision on the removal of the verdicts should be implemented for the ones who were sentenced to less than 5 years in prison.
The Application to the Constitutional Court and the ECHR
Ten defendants, including Kadri Gürsel have applied to the Constitutional Court with the claim of “false imprisonment” on Dec. 6, 2016. The concerned branch of the court sent Gürsel’s file to the General Assembly of the Court in July 2018.
In his appeal, Kadri Gürsel said that his detention was unlawful. He added that there were no concrete justifications for his detention and there were no explanations why the judicial control measures have been regarded insufficient. Gürsel said, his detention was based on “political motives.”
The Constitutional Court requested the opinion of the government due to Gürsel’s claims and the government replied that the allegations against Gürsel were basen on concrete evidences. The government stated that “Regarding the emergency conditions after the coup attempt, the defendant’s detention is not baseless or arbitrary, it is scaled.”
However, the Constitutional Court reached a decision by majority of votes on May 2, 2019 and stated decided that Gürsel’s rights of liberty and security and his freedom of expression and press were violated.
Gürsel applied to European Court of Human Rights on Nov. 9, 2016.
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)