Mehmet Özdemir was the editor-in-chief of the Zaman Newspaper, which has since been shuttered. As part of the legal cases against the newspaper, the prosecutor sought three times aggravated life imprisonment and an additional 7.5 to 15 years in prison. The charges against him were coup-plotting and terrorism. He was acquitted after one year and nine months of pretrial detention.
Özdemir was detained on July 26, 2016 as part of an investigation into the former writers and executives of the Zaman Newspaper. He was placed in pretrial detention on Aug. 4, 2016 by the Istanbul Third Criminal Court of Peace. The indictment against Özdemir was completed on April 10, 2018 by İsmet Bozkurt, the prosecutor for the Bureau of Terror and Organized Crime in Istanbul. The 64-page indictment was sent to court on April 11, 2017 and was accepted by the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court on April 24, 2017.
The indictment against Mehmet Özdemir and the executives and writers of the Zaman newspaper was completed on April 10, 2017 by İsmet Bozkurt, prosecutor of the Bureau of Terror and Organized Crimes of Istanbul. The indictment against Özdemir started with the organization’s purpose, structure, sources of income, and armed power, as in many of the indictments in FETÖ trials. This chapter continued for about 20 pages. The indictment specified that the media organizations, where journalists were working, had links with FETÖ. The indictment included the names of other journalists who were not suspects. The charges against the accused began after this chapter. Özdemir was alleged to be the media force of FETÖ.
He was accused of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the parliament and the government” for the organization. However, the indictment did not involve any of Mehmet Özdemir’s articles, stories, nor social media posts as evidence.
The prosecutor demanded a sentence of up to three times aggravated life imprisonment and an imprisonment of 7.5 to 15 years. Özdemir faced charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Parliament and the government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent them from doing their duties” and “being a member of an armed organization” (314/2).
The first hearing was on Sept. 18-19, 2017 at the Istanbul 13th Criminal Court in Silivri Prison. In his first defense Özdemir said the following:
“I think I’m here by mistake. I’m waiting to see when I’ll hear ’sorry.’” Because my name is mentioned only once in the indictment. It is on the last page, where the names of the newspaper employees are referred to as the defendants.”
The third hearing was on April 5, 2018. The prosecutor disclosed his opinion on the merits at this hearing. The Prosecution’s Office sought aggravated life imprisonment in accordance with the article 309/1 of the Penal Code for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” and added imprisonment of up to fifteen years for “membership of a terrorist organization.”
Twenty days after the Prosecutor’s Office disclosed its legal opinion on the merits of the case during the third hearing, it submitted an additional legal opinion to the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court and changed its charges and request of punishment against Özdemir.
The prosecutor’s office abated the allegation of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” It also changed the previous “membership of a terrorist organization” charge to “being an executive of an armed terrorist organization.” Thus, the request for an aggravated life and fifteen years of imprisonment for Özdemir turned into a prison sentence of up to 22.5 years.
The fourth hearing was on May 10-11, 2018. During this hearing, Özdemir made his final defense against the changed legal opinion. Özdemir said the following:
“It’s like threatening [someone] with death but then convincing them into a vegetative state. How can the crimes on a trial change so often? If there was more time, my acquittal would be requested due to the absence of evidence. I cannot be held responsible for the news reports that were published when I was not on duty.”
Following the lawyers’ request for release, Ozdemir was released.
The court ordered the implementation of judicial control measures. The verdict was disclosed in the sixth hearing on July 6, 2018. Mehmet Özdemir said the following when asked for his final words:
“There is no evidence in the indictment against me. I want my acquittal and judicial measures removed.”
Özdemir was acquitted of all charges. The judicial measures against Özdemir were also removed.
The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office objected to the decision of acquittal for Özdemir at the Court of Appeal. The Istanbul Regional Courthouse’s 2nd Penal Chamber approved the decision of acquittal on June 25, 2019.
It was stated the acquittal decision for Özdemir in the case where Özdemir was being tried as well, was to be reversed. Chief of Public Prosecutors Office’s letter of notification at December 23rd, 2019 requested the sentences of İbrahim Karayeğen, Ahmet Turan Alkan, Mümtazer Türköne and Mustafa Ünal for “terrorist organisation membership” to be upheld.
Chief Public Prosecutors Office also requested that the decision against Şahin Alpay and Ali Bulaç for “terrorist organisation membership” to be reversed and Alpay and Bulaç to be tried for “knowingly and willingly aiding FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organisation without partaking in the hierarchical structure of the organisation”.
The letter requested the acquittal decision for columnists Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu, Nuriye Ural, İhsan Duran Dağı and Orhan Kemal Cengiz to be upheld as well whereas it requested the release decision for Mehmet Özdemir to be reversed.