Court hands down prison sentences between 3 years and one month and 9 years to 10 of the suspects while acquitting 5 people

Eighteen individuals formerly employed in companies linked with Feza Publications Inc., the parent company of the shuttered Zaman newspaper, appeared before the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on April 27 and 30 for the final hearing of their trial.

Their files had been separated from the “Zaman trial,” also overseen by the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, at the third hearing of that case on April 5. A total of 31 suspects, including 11 columnists of the newspaper, faced “coup” and “membership in a terrorist group” charges in the main trial, which now has the columnists as its suspects.

At the end of the April 30 hearing, the court handed down 10 of the 18 suspects prison terms varying between 3 years, 1 month and 15 days and 9 years for “membership in a terrorist organization” and “aiding a terrorist organization without being a member.” Five of the suspects were acquitted while the files of 3 people were separated.

The court sentenced Fia Productions executive Hakan Taşdelen, academic and former Cihan Media Distribution executive Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş and Cihan news agency General Manager Faruk Akkan to nine years in prison each and ordered the continuation of their detentions.

Cihan news agency accountant Ahmet İrem and two of the agency’s former staff, Osman Nuri Arslan and Yüksel Durgut, were handed down 7.5 years in prison each. The court ordered İrem’s release from detention under judicial control and the continuation of judicial control measures already in place for Arslan and Durgut.

Fia Productions executive Cuma Kaya, former Cihan Media Distribution Inc. director Alaattin Güner and Hüseyin Turan, a former shareholder at Feza Publications Inc., were each sentenced to 5 years and released from detention on remand. Murat Avcoğlu, a former shareholder at Fia Productions, was handed down a prison sentence of 3 years, 1 month and 15 days and also ordered to be released.

The court ruled to separate the files of Süleyman Sargın, Osman Nuri Öztürk and Şeref Yılmaz.

Cihan news agency broadcast technician Zafer Özsoy and Zaman advertising department staff Hüseyin Belli, Onur Kutlu, İsmail Küçük and Ali Hüseyin Çelebi were acquitted of the charges.

Eight of the suspects — Hüseyin Turan, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş, Murat Avcıoğlu, Osman Nuri Arslan, Ahmet İrem, Zafer Özsoy, Alaattin Güner and Cuma Kaya — made their final defense statements during the April 27 session of the hearing, monitored in the the courtroom by P24.

The prosecutor had submitted his final opinion on April 5, during the third hearing of the Zaman trial, before the court ruled to separate the files of these 18 suspects.

In his defense statement, Ahmet Metin Sekizkardeş rejected accusations that he had been a vice chair of the executive board in the company, adding that he is an academic. He also rejected allegations that he was a ByLock user, an encrypted messaging app purported to be used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network. Sekizkardeş told the court that all of his academic work during his time with the Fatih University was under the supervision of the Higher Education Board (YÖK), adding that there was no court decision or any criminal investigation at the time suggesting that the university might be under the guidance of a terrorist group. Adding that accusations in the prosecutor’s final opinion were not substantial, Sekizkardeş requested his acquittal and release from detention.

Osman Nuri Öztürk’s lawyer requested his file to be separated, upon which the court decided not to hear Öztürk or his lawyer. The court also decided not to hear Şeref Yılmaz after his lawyer refused to address the court on grounds of new evidence against him to have been presented through witness testimony.

The rest of the defendants addressed the court at the April 30 session, again monitored by P24 in the courtroom at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan.

Making the first defense statement of the session, Faruk Akkan said he was a staff member at the Cihan news agency until the end of 2015 and that none of his news stories had been subjected to any investigation throughout his time with the agency. Akkan said he had accepted the offer to become a director with the agency because he speaks English, Russian and Arabic. He said: “I only spent three months in the executive post at the Cihan news agency. I had no prior knowledge that such a terrorist organization existed before July 15, 2016. I only worked as a professional journalist; I earned my daily bread. Had I had ties with the organization called FETÖ, I would have fled like others have. When the police came to my house I told my family not to be scared; that I was innocent and would be back before dinner.”

Akkan said according to previous rulings by the Supreme Court of Appeals, any accusation pertaining to terrorist group membership needed to be supported by substantial evidence against the suspect, adding that he has never engaged in any activity other than journalism, requesting his acquittal.

Addressing the court after Akkan, Hakan Taşdelen rejected allegations that he was a ByLock user and requested an expert opinion. Taşdelen said there was conflicting information in police reports as to ByLock use, with one report finding ByLock on his phone and another report saying the app had not been found. “Why did the prosecutor take into account the report that found ByLock, and not the other one” Taşdelen demanded.

Taşdelen rejected allegations that Fia Productions was founded with the motive of fraud, adding that his company was founded in 2011. He also added that he has never assumed an executive position with the Cihan news agency.

The lawyer representing Sekizkardeş, Taşdelen and Akkan said for his clients to be charged with the accusations, the exact period of time when the network became a terrorist group needed to be known, adding that the defendants could only be held responsible if the elements of “force and violence” were present, making the network a terrorist group in public opinion. The lawyer requested their acquittal.

Other defense attorneys said during their closing remarks that the court failed to ask the defense whether they requested the extension of investigations, and since the prosecutor has already submitted his final opinion, there was no way they could file for the extension of investigations. They said the court should not issue verdict before asking the defendants whether they had any requests.

Following the completion of defense statements, the court rejected the requests for the extension of investigations and asked the defendants their last words before going to a recess ahead of the verdict. All defendants requested their acquittal.