Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu

Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu was the publisher and executive editor of the “Subuhaber” website to which access was restricted following the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Kuloğlu was detained on 25 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. Following the custody procedures, he was taken to the courthouse the same day. Kuloğlu was referred to the court to be remanded following the prosecutor’s questioning.

Kuloğlu was placed in custody on 25 July 2016 on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. Kuloğlu was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.

Kuloğlu spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be prepared. The indictment which was completed on 16 January 2017 charged Kuloğlu with “membership of an armed organisation”. The prosecution demanded that Kuloğlu be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.

The court ruled Kuloğlu to be released pending trial at the first hearing of the trial on 31 March 2017. However, he was placed in custody again the same day without having been released from prison over the prosecutor’s objection.

At the end of the trial, on 8 March 2018, Kuloğlu was sentenced to imprisonment of seven years and six months on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The court of appeals approved the imprisonment sentence on 22 October 2018. The Court of Cassation finalised the sentence on 16 March 2020.

Kuloğlu had been in prison for three years and seven months when the imprisonment sentence of seven years and six months was finalised.

Kuloğlu has been serving his sentence as a convict at Silivri Prison.

"Media Structure" Trial

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”.

Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, publisher and executive editor of the “Subuhaber” website to which access was restricted, was one of the people under investigation.

Kuloğlu was detained in Istanbul on 25 July 2016. He was taken to the Gayrettepe Public Security Branch Office in Istanbul. Kuloğlu was referred to the court following the procedures at the security directorate on 25 July 2016. He was referred to the court to be remanded following the prosecutor’s questioning.

Kuloğlu was charged with sharing outputs regarding “fuatavni” on the Twitter account of the internet news website of which he was the executive editor.

The Twitter account “Fuat Avni” shared undisclosed information from within the governing party, particularly prior to the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. The outputs were one of the significant subject matters on Turkey’s agenda.

According to the indictment, Kuloğlu stated during the investigation process that “he had not altered perceptions on behalf of any organisation”. Kuloğlu stated that he had set up the website due to economic hardship; he had used ‘Fuat Avni’ outputs, which were popular at the time, by giving references to other visual and written news sources that posted those outputs, and had prepared news reports that ‘Fuat Avni’ was an unreliable troll account after finding out that this was a troll account. He stated that he had not altered perceptions and denied the accusations.

Following the court’s questioning, Kuloğlu was placed in custody the same day on the charge of “membership of an armed organisation”. Kuloğlu was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.

Kuloğlu spent approximately six months in prison awaiting the indictment to be completed. The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, including Kuloğlu, was completed on 16 January 2017.

The indictment concerning 29 defendants, 27 of whom were journalists including Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, publisher and executive editor of ‘Subuhaber’ website, to which access was restricted, 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 Kuloğlu started on page 165 of the indictment, and was a page in length. The social media outputs shared by the social media account of ‘Subuhaber’ website of which Kuloğlu was the founder and executive editor formed the basis of the accusations.

The indictment stated that the Twitter account of the website shared 493 outputs concerning ‘fuat avni’ between the dates 15 June 2014 and 5 January 2016. Stating that interviews were conducted with the users of the account, the indictment also asserted that “Kuloğlu’s website ensured that the account continually remained on the agenda by including its outputs”.

The Twitter account “Fuat Avni” shared undisclosed information from within the governing party, particularly prior to the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. The outputs were one of the significant subject matters on Turkey’s agenda.

It was asserted that Kuloğlu “had created public opinion by publishing news in favour of the organisation”.

The indictment charged Kuloğlu with “membership of an armed organisation” in accordance with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that Kuloğlu be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years. It was also demanded that Kuloğlu “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 Muhammer Sait Kuloğlu, licensee and editor-in-chief of the “Subuhaber” website, to which access is now restricted, commenced with the hearing at the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27-31 March 2017. Kuloğlu 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 Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, to the 13 people to be released pending trial. The court released 21 journalists while prohibiting them 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 Kuloğlu, 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”. The journalists were detained again as part of a new investigation before leaving the prison. The custody procedures lasted for 14 days. The journalists 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” on 14 April 2017.

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 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 by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul charged the 13 journalists with “attempting to alter perceptions in line with the aims of the organisation by means of the written and visual media and the internet”.

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 16-18 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. After the documents submitted to the court concerning “Bank Asya accounts and ByLock use” were read, defendant journalists and their attorneys briefly spoke. Kuloğlu denied the allegations. Two journalists were released at the end of the hearing.

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 heard the witness who attended the hearing from Izmir through the Audio-Visual Informatics System (SEGBIS) testify about Kuloğlu. While the witness stated that they knew Kuloğlu from university and through friends, the president of the court reminded that Kuloğlu was being prosecuted over the charge of “FETÖ membership” and asked about relevant information. The witness said they had no information on the topic. The court ruled that all remanded defendants should continue to 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 Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu be sentenced on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.

Kuloğlu made his defensive statement against the opinion of the prosecution. He said: “No one can be accused with organisation membership over a news story, the term organisation membership is already defined. When I was detained, I was working at ‘haberturk.com’”. Kuloğlu stated they [journalists on trial] had received threatening messages on social media around the time the first release order was issued and said: “It’s fortunate that you didn’t release us then”. Upon this, the president of the court asked: “Is the danger over now? Do you want to be released?” Kuloğlu demanded his release.

The final hearing of the trial took place on 7-8 March 2018. At the end of the hearing, the journalists were asked about their final say regarding the opinion of the prosecution. The panel of judges delivered its ruling on 8 March 2018.

Taking into account “the manner in which the crime was committed and the intensity of criminal intent”, the panel of judges ruled that Kuloğlu be sentenced to imprisonment of seven years and six months on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.

The court ruled that Kuloğlu should continue to be kept in remand.

The Appeals Process

Journalist Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu’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

Journalist Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu’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 Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu was approved by the Chamber. The Court of Cassation ruled that the procedures concerning Kuloğlu 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 Kuloğlu was then finalised.

Kuloğlu had been in prison for more than three years and seven months when the imprisonment sentence of seven years and six months was finalised. He is currently serving his sentence at Silivri Prison.

"Media Structure" Trial (Reasoned Judgement)

"Media Structure" Trial (The Constitutional Court's Judgement)

"Media Structure" Trial (The Court of Cassation's Judgement)

"Media Structure" Trial (Indictment)

Contact: pressinarrest@gmail.com

Creative Commons License

Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.