Cumhuriyet columnist Aydın Engin was taken into custody on October 31, 2016, during a raid on his home by police.
The columnist was detained as part of a criminal investigation into the executives and columnists of Cumhuriyet daily. In response to a reporter’s question on why he was being detained while he was being taken to the Police Department, the 76-year-old journalist said: “I work at Cumhuriyet. Is that not enough reason for detention?”
On November 5, six days after his arrest, the journalist appeared before the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace. He was released on judicial control measures due to his advanced age.
The indictment into the Cumhuriyet journalists, which came much later, accuses Engin of “aiding a terrorist organization while not being a member,” demanding between 7.5 to 15 years in prison for the journalist.
Some of Engin’s columns are included in the indictment as evidence against him. The prosecutor accuses him of “covertly criticizing actions taken against the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ/PDY)” — the name given to the Fethullah Gülen network by Turkish authorities, which they say was behind the July 15 coup attempt and of “attempting to lessen the impact of the fight against FETÖ/PDY and creating a bad reputation about it.” Engin is also accused of “aiding a terrorist organization” as phone records show he was called by people who used ByLock, an encrypted messaging application allegedly used by the members of the Gülen network, and that some of the people who had records of phone communication with him were being investigated in relation with FETÖ probes. Additionally, Aydın attended the Abant Platform meetings, organized by the Gülen-affiliated Foundation of Journalists and Writers.
In his statement to the prosecutors, Engin said he had openly condemned the coup attempt, and joined the Abant meetings, treating these as a news source.
The first hearing of the trial, where Engin and other Cumhuriyet journalists and columnists are charged with terrorism and “abuse of trust,” went under way on July 24, 2017, at the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court.
Engin, who gave his statement before the court on the fourth day of the hearing on July 27, said Akın Atalay and Bülent Utku, two Cumhuriyet Foundation executives who had testified before him, had given ample response to the indictment. “I also find no meaning in making any statements about nine of my articles that were included in the indictment as if they are elements of crime which were never investigated by prosecutors before the expiration of statute of limitations on time,” he said. His concluding words were: “It is causing me shame in the name of law and pain for my country that I and my friends were put on the defense stand with such an indictment.”
In its interim decision on July 28, the court ruled for the release of seven of the suspects in detention on remand pending the completion of the trial, while ruling that four other Cumhuriyet journalists and another defendant should continue to remain in jail.
The second hearing of the trial was held on September 11, 2017, at the courtroom inside the Silivri Prison premises. A detailed report about the hearing, in which no new release decisions were rendered, can be reached here.
The third hearing was held on September 25 at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan. Three suspects delivered defense statements during the hearing, in which Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gürsel was released pending trial.
During the fourth hearing, held on October 31, digital forensics expert Tuncay Beşikçi testified in relation to the messaging application ByLock. During the hearing, a new piece of evidence was introduced by the investigating prosecutor despite objection from defense attorneys. The session was concluded without any new release orders.
The hearing scheduled for December 25 and 26 was concluded earlier than expected after defendant Ahmet Şık’s defense statement was cut short on grounds that it was “political” and Şık was removed from the courtroom. On the first day, after the presiding judge had Şık expelled from the courtroom on grounds that he “disrupted the order of the proceedings,” Cumhuriyet’s lawyers filed for a recusal. The panel of judges then decided that it would not be possible to hear the two witnesses who were expected to testify during the hearing and went on to issue an interim ruling, ordering the continuation of the detention of all of the defendants on remand and of the judicial control measures imposed on the other defendants in the case. The court also set March 9, 2018, as the date of the next hearing.
At the end of the March 9 hearing, reporter Ahmet Şık and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu were released pending the conclusion of the trial after spending more than 400 days in pre-trial detention at the Silivri Prison. The court ruled that the next hearing would be held on March 16.
During the seventh hearing on March 16, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, requesting that 13 members of the Cumhuriyet staff, including Aydın Engin, are convicted on charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member.”
The defendants presented their final defense statements at the following hearing of the case, which were held on April 24-25, in Silivri. On April 25, the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul announced its verdict, convicting Engin and 13 other Cumhuriyet journalists and executives of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
Engin was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison but remains free pending the outcome of appeal. The court ruled to impose judicial control measures on all defendants in the case who were handed down prison sentences. All of the defendants charged with “abuse of authority” in the indictment were acquitted of that charge.
On 18 February 2019, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, an appellate court, upheld the convictions in the Cumhuriyet trial.
Aydın Engin, Akın Atalay, Ahmet Şık, Hikmet Çetinkaya, Murat Sabuncu and Orhan Erinç can further appeal the verdict with the Supreme Court of Appeals since the prison terms they have been imposed are longer than five years.