Mutlu Çölgeçen was born in Denizli in 1971.
Çölgeçen graduated from the Faculty of Humanities at Istanbul University. He worked at various newspapers, TV channels and agencies such as Sabah, Yeni Şafak, Kanaltürk, Channel 6 and Akşam. Çölgeçen worked as a parliamentary correspondent in Ankara for some time. He later worked as the editorial office coordinator of the Millet newspaper.
Çölgeçen authored three books titled Şüphe [Doubt], Siber Savaş [Cyber War] and Harekat [Operation].
Millet newspaper was 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. 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.
Çölgeçen was detained on 31 August 2016 on allegations of “being affiliated with FETO media organisation” as part of the investigation commenced by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul. He was placed in custody on 2 September 2016 on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. He was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
Çölgeçen spent approximately five months in prison awaiting the indictment concerning him to be completed. The indictment completed on 16 January 2017 charged him with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. The prosecution demanded that Çölgeçen be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years and 10 years.
Çölgeçen was sentenced to imprisonment of six years and three months on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” at the end of the trial process on 8 March 2018.
The court of appeals approved the imprisonment sentence on 22 October 2018. The Court of Cassation finalised the verdict on 16 March 2020.
Çölgeçen has been serving the prison sentence as a convict at Istanbul Silivri Prison.
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”.
Mutlu Çölgeçen, the editorial office coordinator of the now-closed Millet newspaper, was one of the people under investigation.
Çölgeçen was detained in Istanbul on 31 August 2016. He was taken to the Gayrettepe Public Security Branch Office in Istanbul.
Çölgeçen was brought before the court on 3 September 2016 after the procedures here. He was referred to the court to be remanded following the prosecutor’s questioning. He was remanded the same day on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. He was taken to the Silivri Closed High Security Prison.
Çölgeçen spent approximately five months in prison awaiting the indictment concerning him to be completed. The indictment concerning 29 people, 27 of whom were journalists, including Çölgeçen, was completed on 16 January 2017.
The indictment concerning 29 defendants, 27 of whom were journalists, including Mutlu Çölgeçen, the editorial office coordinator of the now-closed Millet newspaper, was completed by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul 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 (FETO-PDY)”. This part was identical with the texts in indictments prepared for similar cases
The allegations against Çölgeçen started on page 179 of the indictment. The indictment included information about the media outlets Çölgeçen previously worked at. It was stated that Millet newspaper, the most recent media outlet Çölgeçen worked at, “belonged to the Koza-İpek Group, to which a public administrator had been appointed due to its financial support to FETO/PDY and money laundering activities”.
The indictment asserted that Çölgeçen “had been active” in the trials publicly known as the Ergenekon and Balyoz court cases. It was asserted that these court cases were “plots carried out by the organisation”. It was asserted that Çölgeçen “manipulated public perception domestically and abroad” during the trial processes with his news stories and articles.
During the trial that commenced in 2008 and publicly known as the “Ergenekon Court Case”, 235 defendants, including journalists, attorneys at law and soldiers were charged with “membership of a terrorist organisation”. Meanwhile, hundreds of military officers were put on trial over the charge of “planning a coup” with the trial publicly known as the “Balyoz Court Case”. Both court cases were dismissed after the military coup attempt on 15 July 2016.
The indictment included two news articles prepared by Çölgeçen on these court cases. The indictment stated that “the preparation of false evidence for these investigations” had been established. It was also asserted that Çölgeçen “had reported articles and news that supported the investigation as if there were irrefutable evidence”.
The indictment listed 17 outputs from Çölgeçen’s social media account as “elements of crime”. Some of Çölgeçen’s outputs were as follows:
. “After 11 July, the military will start discussing the Supreme Military Council [promotion] files. The commander of the navy is retiring. What will be the biggest surprise?”
. “There is a serious chess game being played in Ankara before the Supreme Military Council meeting. There is a team that is trying to break down precedents, that is attempting to muddy things up. There are plans for a witch hunt.”
. “After the two tweets I sent yesterday, the witch hunt began in the navy today. Is this entire operation aimed at paving a single person’s way to the forces?”
. [The defendant] was found to have shared logos belonging to media organs of the Koza/İpek Group acting in coherence with the organisation with a tweet that said: “This media group will no doubt reach incredible heights once again in the hands of firm and competent people”.
The indictment also listed outputs Çölgeçen posted during the investigation launched on many people, including government officials and their families, publicly known as the “17-25 December corruption operations”. It was asserted that these outputs “were in accordance with the organisation’s propaganda”.
The indictment included information on the report belonging to the investigation concerning Çölgeçen carried out by the Financial Crimes Investigation Board (MASAK). The report conveyed information concerning Çölgeçen’s Bank Asya account activities. It was asserted that Çölgeçen “deposited money to the bank upon the instructions of the organisation’s leader” after the bank was put under investigation.
It was asserted that Çölgeçen “shared outputs aimed to alter perceptions in a way as if there were legitimate reasons for the coup attempt” before the military coup attempt on 15 July. The indictment asserted that Çölgeçen “labelled FETO as a congregation and shared outputs that suggested organisation members did not attempt the coup and the organisation was not strong within the Turkish Armed Forces” after the military coup attempt.
The indictment charged Çölgeçen with “altering perceptions on behalf of the organisation” and demanded him to be sentenced.
The indictment charged Çölgeçen with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in line with Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code. The prosecution demanded that Çölgeçen be sentenced to imprisonment of between five years to 10 years. It was also demanded that Çölgeçen “be deprived of the enjoyment of certain rights” in accordance with Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code.
The indictment was accepted by the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The trial concerning 29 defendants, of whom 27 were journalists, including Mutlu Çölgeçen, editor-in-chief of the now-closed Millet newspaper, commenced with the first hearing at the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 27-31 March 2017. Çölgeçen had been in prison for approximately seven months when he first stood trial.
Attorney Ali Deniz Ceylan stated that the president of the court for the trial had detained Mutlu Çölgeçen along with Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy and Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu when he served as a 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 the 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 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 to the 13 people to be released pending trial. Thus, 21 journalists were released.
However, the court ruled that four journalists, including Mutlu Çölgeçen, should continue to be held in remand.
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 the same day on 31 March 2017. 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. 12 of the 13 journalists who were detained again after their release were brought before the court following the custody procedures on 14 April 2017. They were remanded by the 2nd Criminal Court of Peace of Istanbul the same day on charges of “attempting to destroy the constitutional order” and “attempting to destroy the Government of the Republic of Turkey”. Mutlu Çölgeçen, who was detained despite the release order, was released pending trial following the custody procedures. 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, stated the following in his social media account: “Every prosecutor and judge will be discharged from duty who ordered the release of apparent FETO 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 July 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.
The first hearing of the trial for the second indictment took place on 16-18 August 2017. The court ordered the prosecution 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. The hearing began with the president of the court reading the documents received by the court.
The document submitted to the court by the Security General Directorate asserted that “there were records indicating Çölgeçen had used the ByLock application in 2014”.
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 at this hearing.
The opinion of the prosecution demanded that Çölgeçen be sentenced on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. However, the indictment concerning Çölgeçen charged him with “membership of an armed organisation”.
Following the opinion of the prosecution, journalists’ attorneys objected to the sentence being demanded despite some of the evidence being in favour of the journalists. Attorneys also stated that there was no tangible evidence concerning the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The final hearing of the trial took place on 7-8 March 2018. Çölgeçen made his defensive statement at the final hearing of the trial.
Çölgeçen stated that the report received by the expert appointed by the court for the ByLock allegations proved that he was a victim of the application called “Mor Beyin”.
It was later understood that the ByLock application found on the mobile phones of defendants who were tried in FETO trials was installed without the defendants’ knowledge by the software called ‘Mor Beyin’. These individuals were recognised as victims during the trial process, and many were acquitted.
Çölgeçen stated the following: “All governmental institutions allowed the publication of Millet newspaper, the state distributed yellow press cards [to its reporters]. I therefore do not find the question ‘Why did you work at this newspaper?’ to be the right question.”
Stating that he had worked at Sabah newspaper known to have a pro-government publishing policy as the news director at the Ankara office, Çölgeçen said the following: “I cannot be accused of news and articles which fall within the scope of journalistic activities. I worked as the news director of Sabah newspaper, which is known to have a pro-government publishing policy. Erdal Şafak, who still works as the executive editor of Sabah, made my articles the lead and second lead articles on the front page of the newspaper on many occasions. I believe you will find me not guilty by acting with justice and in good conscience.”
The panel of judges delivered its ruling at the second session of the hearing on 8 March 2018.
Mutlu Çölgeçen was sentenced to imprisonment of seven years and six months on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in line with the opinion of the prosecution.
The court also ruled that Çölgeçen, who was being tried in remand, should continue to be held in remand.
Çölgeçen had been tried in remand approximately for 18 months when the district court ruled on his prison sentence.
The Appeals Process
Journalist Mutlu Çölgeçen’s attorneys launched an appeal against the local court’s 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 Chamber rejected the appeal 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 Mutlu Çölgeçen’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 Chamber approved the prison sentence of Mutlu Çölgeçen.
The Court of Cassation ruled that the procedures concerning the journalists 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 Çölgeçen was then finalised.
Çölgeçen had been in prison for three years and six months when the imprisonment sentence of seven years and six months was finalised.
Çölgeçen is currently serving his sentence as a convict in Silivri Prison.
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