Journalist Ayşe Düzkan joined in a campaign for solidarity with the now-defunct pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem on 8 May 2016, symbolically editing the newspaper for a day. A public prosecutor immediately launched an investigation against Düzkan, accusing her of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” over her participation in the campaign.
Özgür Gündem was closed down later in 2016 under a statutory decree issued as part of Turkey’s emergency rule.
Düzkan was summoned by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on 23 May 2016 to give her statement as part of the investigation. In her statement, Düzkan said she symbolically assumed the role of editor-in-chief for a day, to lend support to Özgür Gündem. She told the prosecutor that she participated in the editorial board meeting for the 8 May 2016 edition of the newspaper but that the content featured on that day’s paper for which she is accused was chosen and edited by the newspaper’s own editorial staff.
An indictment against Düzkan was issued on 24 May 2016, only one day after she gave her statement to the prosecutor. News stories from Özgür Gündem’s 8 May 2016 edition were held as evidence in the indictment, where Düzkan was charged with “openly inciting crime,” “praising crime or a criminal,” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The indictment was accepted by the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
The first courtroom hearing of the case, where Düzkan stood trial alongside journalists Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Ragıp Duran, Hüseyin Aykol and columnist Hüseyin Bektaş, took place on 20 September 2016 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Düzkan was in attendance at the hearing. In her defense statement in response to the accusations in the indictment, Düzkan reiterated the statement she gave to the prosecutor during the investigation. Düzkan said: “I symbolically became the editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem for a single day in order to lend my support to the newspaper in the face of the pressure they faced at the time. I believe this is not a crime and I request to be acquitted.” Since the court heard Düzkan’s defense statement, the panel granted Düzkan exemption from personal attendance in the courtroom.
During the fourth hearing of the case on 9 May 2017, the prosecution submitted their final opinion of the case, seeking a 7.5-year prison term for Düzkan on the charge of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group.” Düzkan’s lawyer Yeşinil Yeşilyurt requested a continuance for the preparation of the final defense statement in response to the prosecution’s final opinion. The court accepted, and adjourned the trial.
The seventh and final hearing of the trial took place on 16 January 2018. Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court convicted Düzkan and her four co-defendants of “Disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The court initially sentenced Düzkan, Duran, Çelebi and Bektaş to one year in prison each. The court then increased the penalties by half on the grounds that “the offense was committed via the press.” As a result, Duran, Düzkan, Çelebi and Bektaş were each sentenced to one year and six months in prison. Aykol was initially sentenced to two years in prison. The court increased Aykol’s sentence to three years on the grounds that he “committed the offense through the press.” Aykol’s sentence was also increased by another nine months because “the offense was committed successively.”
The court said none of the defendants were granted reduction in the sentences because they have “not shown sufficient remorse” during the hearings.
Ruling on the motion for appeal filed by defense lawyers, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice upheld the trial court’s verdict. In its judgment dated 29 November 2018, the appellate court found the trial court’s judgment to be lawful. This opened the way for the imprisonment of Düzkan, for prison sentences less than five years cannot be appealed further once they are upheld by an appellate court.
Düzkan was sent to prison on 29 January 2019 to serve the 18-month sentence she was handed down in January 2018. Düzkan was placed in the Bakırköy Women’s Prison in Istanbul, where she will remain behind bars for 1 year.
Düzkan’s petitions seeking her transfer to an open prison as per standard legal procedures have been ignored by the prison management, according to a May 2019 news report. Düzkan’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç has applied to the Bakırköy Judge of Execution for her transfer to an open prison.
On 23 May 2019, Düzkan was released from the Bakırköy Women’s Prison in response to her numerous requests to be transferred to an open prison. Düzkan was subsequently transferred to the women’s open prison in the Eskişehir province. She was released from Eskişehir Women’s Prison on probation on 11 June 2019.