The new Turkey Metin Yılmaz. Daily Sözcü editor-in-chief
27 December 2019:
7 staff members of Sözcü daily given prison terms
The trial of nine columnists, executives and staff members of Sözcü daily concluded on 27 December 2019 at a criminal court in Istanbul. The 37th High Criminal Court convicted seven of the nine defendants of “knowingly and willingly aiding the terrorist organization FETÖ/PDY without being its member,” handing down prison terms between 2 years and 1 month and 3 years, 6 months and 15 days.
This was the 11th hearing in the case. Columnist Emin Çölaşan and reporter Gökmen Ulu, who do not reside in Istanbul, addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing network SEGBİS. The newspaper’s publisher, Burak Akbay, who lives abroad, was not present. The rest of the defendants as well as defense lawyers were in attendance in the courtroom.
The prosecution told the court they reiterated their final opinion of the case, submitted ahead of the 7th hearing of the case, in April.
After hearing the last words of the defendants, the court announced its verdict.
Columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru were each sentenced to 3 years, 6 months and 15 days while the daily’s Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz and the editor of Sözcü’s online edition Mustafa Çetin were each sentenced to 3 years and 4 months. The online edition’s editorial coordinator Yücel Arı, reporter Gökmen Ulu and accounting department employee Yonca Yücekaleli were each sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison.
The court ruled to separate the file against Akbay, whose defense statement has still not been taken. An arrest warrant the court issued for Akbay is still in place. Mediha Olgun was acquitted.
During the 10th hearing, the defense lawyers had requested a review of the case file and the prosecutor’s final opinion in light of the amendment introduced in Article 7 of the Law on the Fight Against Terrorism (TMK) with the judicial reform package. The final opinion was seeking prison sentences between 5 to 10 years for Emin Çölaşan, Necati Doğru, Gökmen Ulu, Metin Yılmaz, Mustafa Çetin, Yücel Arı and Yoca Yücekaleli. The prosecutor recommended a lesser sentence for Olgun based on effective remorse provisions, citing her cooperation throughout the investigation and the trial. Referring to the defendants’ statements throughout the trial, the prosecutor had argued in his final opinion that “harshly criticizing FETÖ in the newspaper, even openly insulting it, does not constitute proof of not supporting FETÖ.”
30 October 2019:
Sözcü trial adjourned over reform package
The 10th hearing of a trial where nine staffers of Sözcü newspaper stand accused of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” took place on 28 October 2019 at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Accepting defense lawyers’ requests for the case file to be reviewed by the prosecution in light of the amendments introduced with the newly enacted judicial reform package, which was published last week in the Official Gazette, the court adjourned the trial until 27 December. As part of the reform package, a clause that reads “Declarations of opinion that do not cross the line of reporting or that are intended as criticism do not constitute crime” was added to Article 7 of the Law on the Fight against Terror (TMK). Defense lawyers asserted that, based on the said amendment, the prosecution’s final opinion was no longer valid and that a new final opinion should be drafted.
P24 monitored the hearing, which was attended by defendants Necati Doğru, Gökmen Ulu, Yonca Yücekaleli, Mediha Olgun and Metin Yılmaz along with their lawyers. Emin Çölaşan participated from Ankara via the video-conferencing system SEGBİS. Having both submitted letters of excuse, Yücel Arı and Mustafa Çetin were not present in the courtroom. Members of the press, CHP deputies and provincial administrators were among those observing the hearing.
Announcing that the hearing would not be recorded due to a technical malfunction in SEGBİS, the presiding judge Akın Gürlek informed that the proceedings would instead be summarized in the minutes.
Addressing the court next, lawyer Ceren Yakışır requested time to expand their defense statements in response to the enactment of the judicial reform package. Also in order to avoid a loss of rights, Yakışır requested the court to lift the arrest warrant issued against her client Burak Akbay, Sözcü’s former publisher who now lives abroad.
Asking the prosecution to draft a new final opinion in light of the amendment introduced with the judicial reform, lawyer İsmail Yılmaz told the court that the panel should also re-discuss evidence and defendants should be given additional time to prepare new defense statements.
Referring to the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling that overturned the convictions rendered in the Cumhuriyet trial and said the defendants should be acquitted, columnist Emin Çölaşan’s lawyer Serhan Özdemir told the court that the Supreme Court judgment in the Cumhuriyet case also applied to the Sözcü trial and asked the court to acquit his client or to dismiss the case.
Urging the court once again to take the judicial reform package into account, lawyer Celal Ülgen requested the court to acquit his clients. Lawyer Fahri Emeksiz also asked the court to lift the arrest warrant against Burak Akbay.
The prosecutor said he did not have anything to add and the court proceeded to deliberate before the audience. Issuing an interim ruling, the court decided to ask the prosecution if any changes were to be made to the final opinion in light of the amendments introduced with the reform package. The court also ruled to grant time for the preparation of new defense statements in case a new final opinion is presented. Ruling to keep the arrest warrant against Akbay in place, the court adjourned the trial until 27 December 2019.
15 March 2019:
The trial into the executives and employees of Sözcü newspaper on terrorism-related charges resumed
A recent indictment that accuses Sözcü columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru, the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz, website news coordinator Yücel Arı and website editor Mustafa Çetin of “aiding the terrorist organization ‘FETÖ’ without being part of its hierarchical structure” was merged in January with the ongoing case into the daily’s former website news director Mediha Olgun, Financial Affairs Manager Yonca Yücekaleli, Izmir correspondent Gökmen Ulu and former publisher Burak Akbay on the charges of “leading an armed terror organization,” “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “aiding FETÖ while not being its members.” An arrest warrant is still in place for Akbay, who is abroad.
This was the first courtroom hearing in the case after the two files were merged.
P24 monitored the hearing, where Metin Yılmaz, Mustafa Çetin, Necati Doğru, Yücel Arı, Gökmen Ulu, Mediha Olgun and Yonca Yücekaleli were in attendance, as well as defense lawyers. Emin Çölaşan addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS from Ankara.
At the end of the previous hearing, the court had ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecutor for the final opinion to be prepared. The prosecution requested additional time for their final opinion because of the vast extent of the file.
The defendants then told the court that they would not make any statements at this point. Mediha Olgun asked to be acquitted.
Defense lawyers requested that the court ask for a new expert opinion, which the court rejected. The lawyers also requested the expansion of the investigation and said the submission of the final opinion without the completion of the case file would lead to violations of the right to defense and the right to a fair trial.
Burak Akbay’s lawyer requested the lifting of the arrest warrant against her client.
The prosecution requested that the court reject all requests and the continuation of the arrest warrant for Akbay.
Issuing its interim ruling following a brief recess, the court rejected the defense lawyers’ requests. The court agreed to grant additional time to the prosecution for their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 18 April.
18 January 2019:
Turkish court delays trial of dissident Sözcü journalists
Veteran journalist and columnist Emin Çölaşan, columnist Necati Doğru, editor-in-chief Metin Yılmaz, internet editor Mustafa Çetin, and internet news coordinator Yücel Arı of the left-wing daily Sözcü were accused in December of links to the Gülen religious movement, which the Turkish government blames for organising a coup attempt against it in July 2016.
Thousands of Turks, including many journalists, have been purged or tried in the aftermath of the coup attempt after being accused of links to the Gülen movement. However, the accusations against the writers at Sözcü provoked particularly outcry since they and the newspaper had for years criticised the movement and its leader, Islamist preacher Fethullah Gülen.
Sözcü’s criticisms of the Gülenists stretch back to a time when the group was known to be close to the Turkish government, a fact that Arı noted in his defence statements.
Çetin speculated that the case had been launched against them on account of Çölaşan, and Doğru’s columns, which have often been highly critical of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
He added that the indictment against them touched on the newspaper’s reports on the social media account run under the name “Fuat Avni,” a whistleblower account that posted supposed insider information about the Turkish government for years starting in 2014. The identity of the account is still unknown, though many believe it to be linked to the Gülen movement.
Reporting on the Avni account in 2014 and 2015 was natural for a news site, said Çetin, since at that point the account had become a “phenomenon” due to several of its claims proving true.
The court has asked for the case files against Sözcü owner Burak Akbay, Mediha Olgun, Bekir Gökmen Ulu and Yonca Yücekaleli to be added to the indictment.
Akbay faces up to 30 years in prison, having been charged with “leading an armed terrorist organisation” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation.” The other three face lesser terror charges which carry a prison sentence of between seven-and-a-half and 15 years.
Turkish prosecutors are seeking maximum 15-year prison terms for five leading journalists at secularist opposition daily Sözcü for aiding the Gülen movement, which Ankara accuses of masterminding the July 2016 coup attempt and designates a terror organisation, pro-government Sabah daily reported
The five are set to stand trial in Istanbul on Jan. 18.
The cases against the Sözcü staff follow a previous trial which began in 2017 against the daily’s staff for aiding the Gülen movement. Sözcu video journalist Mediha Olgun and Gokmen Ulu were released following months of detention over terror links, while the newspaper’s founder Burak Akbay, who has left the country, stands accused of being a leader of a terrorist organisation.