Orhan Erinç was a columnist and the concessionaire of the Cumhuriyet Newspaper. He has continued his journalistic work since 1950’s.
Respectively, he worked for Son Posta (1957-1962), Yeni Sabah (1962-1963) and Cumhuriyet newspapers as a correspondent, news editor, secretary and editor-in-chief. He was a columnist for the Hurriyet Newspaper (1981-1984). He worked as an editor-in-chief for the Turkish News Agency and serials and research manager for the Güneş Newspaper (1987-1990. In 1993, he returned to the Cumhuriyet Newspaper as an editorial consultant. In 1994, he became editor-in-chief. He resigned from his duty on Jan. 4, 2001 and worked as a columnist for the newspaper. After the death of İlhan Selçuk, he was elected as the head of Cumhuriyet Foundation in July 2010. He continued his duty until Sept. 2018.
Erinç was also taking part in the professional bodies. He was a board member (1970-1972) and general president (1989-1995) at the Turkish Journalists Union. He was vice president (1998) and elected as president (2001) at the Turkish Journalists Society. In April 2013, he did not become a candidate and resigned from his duties there.
Erinç was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months of prison in the Cumhuriyet trial. The Court of Appeal approved the sentence. Erinç’s lawyers appealed to the Court of Cassation. The Public Prosecutor’s Office of the Court of Cassation asked for the reversal of the sentence for Orhan Erinç and demanded his acquittal.
The Court of Cassation reversed the decision about Orhan Erinç along with all the other defendants of Cumhuriyet Newspaper. The retrial of all the defendants will start at the Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court.
Upon the request of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Istanbul 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled to issue an arrest warrant for the Cumhuriyet newspaper’s managers and employees on Oct. 31, 2016. Orhan Erinç who was concessionaire of the Cumhuriyet newspaper and board member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, was included in the investigation.
In his statement, Orhan Erinç said, “Answering these accusations is not the right thing to do, we think it is insulting” and reiterated that “the Cumhuriyet newspaper published reports criticizing the structure of Fethullah Gülen” [Fethullah Gülen is an Islamic cleric who is in self-imposed exile in the USA. The AKP government, which was once in alliance with Gülen, declared his followers as the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure, and accuse Gülen of orchestrating the coup attempt on 15th of July, 2016.]
Erinç stressed the investigation is “unlawful” and said, “We see [this operation] as the first step of the attempt to exterminate the Cumhuriyet newspaper.” He continued by saying, “Our newspaper will continue its fight for democracy and freedom.”
Mehmet Akif Ekinci, the deputy of the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor, and Yasemin Baba, a junior prosecutor with the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, issued the Cumhuriyet indictment on April 3, 2017. As the concessionaire of the Cumhuriyet newspaper and board member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, Orhan Erinç was among the suspects. In the indictment, Erinç was charged for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” (TPC 220/7) and “abuse of trust” (TPC 155).
In the indictment, it was claimed that as the former president of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, Erinç, “manipulated the foundation’s executive board elections in 2013 and eliminated the Cumhuriyet writers of the newspaper, shifted the newspaper’s editorial policy in contrast of its tradition and the worldview. [The suspect] was linked with the other defendants who came to power in 2013 and changed the editorial policy, thus he has legal liability for the newspaper’s editorial policy.”
The first hearing of the trial was held in Çağlayan Courthouse on July 24, 2017.
In his defense, Orhan Erinç stated he has been a journalist since Feb. 14, 1957, and continued as follows:
“For the 45 years of these 60 years, I was a board member in the Turkish Journalists’ Association (Türkiye Gazeteciler Cemiyeti) and the Turkish Journalists’ Union (Türkiye Gazeteciler Sendikası) and for the 18 years of these 60 years, I was the president of the Turkish Journalists’ Association. In short, I am experienced in the topics of the executive board and presidency. I am not just the president of the Cumhuriyet Foundation.”
Orhan Erinç answered the accusations of the seizure of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and the shift in editorial policy.
Regarding the accusation of “having communication logs with two allegedly ByLock users [ByLock is a communication application regarded as evidence of FETÖ membership by the Turkish courts] and seven people who were investigated for FETÖ membership,” Erinç stated:
“I believe the approach of expecting me to know ByLock, which was unknown by the state, is not right. I talked to a district governor. The fact the district governor was a ByLock user is not my shame, but the governor’s and the Minister of Interior’s. I went to Ordu for a local media seminar and that district governor called me. I was there for the local media seminar, I talked with the governor’s press secretary, and I didn’t know if he was a ByLock user. I didn’t have any intention. I don’t understand how can I be accused of these.”
Prosecutor Hacı Hasan Bölükbaşı explained his opinion about the accusations. Prosecutor Bölükbaşı recommended charging Orhan Erinç for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization” and “abuse of trust.”
The court reached its verdict in the eighth hearing. In the final hearing, which was held on April 24-25, 2018, Erinç made his defense against the prosecutor’s opinion of the accusations. Stating that this prosecution was a political trial, Erinç said, “The backbone of this trial was made of two former Cumhuriyet workers’ greed - which blocked their minds - in the elections of the board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and convenient for the political power’s [meaning the AKP].”
The court reached a verdict on April 25, 2018, and sentenced Erinç to 6 years and 3 months of prison for “aiding and abetting an organization knowingly and willingly, although he does not belong to the structure of that organization.” Erinç was acquitted for the charge of “abuse of trust.”
In the reasoning of the verdict, the court claimed that “Orhan Erinç was in the team responsible for the change [in the foundation and the newspaper] by not interfering any of the developments even though he was the president of the Cumhuriyet Foundation and had a determinate power.” It was stated that “especially in the election of the board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation in April 2, 2013, which was conducted after the death of Aydın Aybay, he validated the vote of Mustafa Balbay who was in prison at the time, but didn’t validate the vote of İnan Kıraç who was abroad at the time but gave his vote to Erinç in a closed envelope just a week ago.”
In the reasoning, it was claimed that “Erinç played a significant role in the election of Önder Çelik, replacing a board member with someone who was close to them, thus seized a power which could influence the decisions to be reached by the foundation.”
The highlights of the conclusion chapter of the reasoning were made in the following terms:
“The defendant is one of the oldest Cumhuriyet workers and as the president of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, he didn’t prevent the shift in the newspaper’s editorial policy. Therefore, he actively contributed to the reshaping of the board of the foundation. In conclusion, because of his position’s power to change the editor-in-chief, determine the advisors and manage the people who will shape the editorial choices, he has legal liability. His intention, and intent in this three-years-long process in which the newspaper presented very similar coverage to the FETÖ-affiliated-newspapers, ended up showing parallels in support of the anti-democratic violent actions.”
Erinç’s attorney appealed the verdict. The Istanbul Regional Court of Justice’s 3rd Penal Chamber approved the verdict on Feb. 18, 2019. The defense attorneys appealed the verdict to the Court of Cassation’s 16th Penal Chamber on Feb. 26, 2019.
The Court of Cassation
Mücahit Erdoğan and Turan Kuloğlu, the chief 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 the reversal of the verdict about Erinç and the other columnists and managers of the Cumhuriyet Newspaper.
In the notification, it was emphasized that Orhan Erinç was the chairman of the executive board of Cumhuriyet Foundation and he is also the authorized person of first degree at the Yenigün News Agency and Press Inc. Co. It was stated that Erinç and the other defendants could not be accused due to the articles published by the newspaper as there was no information, document or evidence for it and they can not be held responsible for the articles. It was also stated that Orhan Erinç did not write any article to be a subject of crime.
The Court of Cassation reversed the decision about Orhan Erinç along with all the other defendants of Cumhuriyet Newspaper.
In the reasoned decision of the chamber, it was stated that the principle of “defendant benefits from the suspicion” should be applied.
In the decision, the expressions about Cumhuriyet Newspaper as “known as its oppositional identity” were used. It was also stated that freedom of thought and expression should also include the ideas which are not approved by a part of the public.
In the decision, it was mentioned that for committing the crime of aiding an organization, there should be “an intention.” For detecting “an intention”, the existence of the organization and its members’ identites should also be known. There should be a concrete evidence for the crime of “aiding an organization intentionally and voluntarily.”
In the decision; it was mentioned that the fundamental condition of punishment is the detection of crime without any suspicion. Suspicious and ambigious allegations cannot be interpreted against the defendants for a decision of sentence.
It was emphasized in the decision that the court committees were mistaken about the assessment of evidences.
The retrial of all the defendants will start at the Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal Court.