Erdoğan Alayumat, a reporter for the shuttered Dicle Media News Agency (Dihaber), was taken into custody on 14 July 2017 in the Islahiye district of the southeastern province of Gaziantep on “reasonable suspicion” grounds. Alayumat was detained along with his co-worker, reporter Nuri Akman, as they were working on a news report.
After spending 13 days in custody at the Hatay Police Department, Alayumat was arrested and sent to prison on “espionage” charges on 27 July. Akman was released under judicial control terms.
The indictment accepted by the 2nd High Criminal Court of Hatay seeks up to 45 years in prison for both Alayumat and Akman on charges of “procuring state documents that should remain confidential for political or military espionage purposes” and “membership in a terrorist organization.”
The indictment only cites news reports found in the journalists’ computers, including an article headlined “National Intelligence Organization base provides supplies at night and training in daytime,” as evidence to the charges.
At the Tarsus Prison, where he was sent following his imprisonment, Alayumat has become subject to ill-treatment and torture, including punishments such as being secluded in rubber rooms and solitary confinement, and beatings his lawyer told Turkish media in October 2017. Alayumat was transferred to the Bafra Prison in the Black Sea province of Samsun after his lawyer filed legal complaint regarding the ill-treatment in Tarsus. Alayumat announced in January that he was starting a boycott against a recent government decree which requires that terror suspects are made to wear uniforms during hearings.
Alayumat and Akman appeared at the first hearing of their trial on 2 February 2018, at the 2nd High Criminal Court of Hatay.
Alayumat and Akman told the court that the indictment was based on their news reports and photographs, some of which were not even taken by them. Giving his defense statement from the Samsun Bafra Prison via the tele-conferencing system SEGBIS, Alayumat said the indictment did not provide any substantial evidence despite the gravity of the accusations against him.
The court ruled for the continuation of Alayumat’s pre-trial detention and the judicial control terms imposed on Akman, and adjourned the trial until April 25.
Alayumat remained behind bars at the end of the second hearing on 25 April where Nuri Akman did not attend.
At the third hearing on 23 May, it emerged that the court had not yet received a response from the Turkish General Staff concerning an inquiry about the photographs on which the “espionage” charge against Alayumat is based. Lawyer Tugay Bek told the court that witness testimonies heard by the court during the previous hearing were proof that both Alayumat and Akman’s activities were journalistic activities and requested for Alayumat’s release from pretrial detention.
The court ruled for Alayumat’s release from pre-trial detention at the end of the hearing and adjourned the trial until 19 October 2018.
Alayumat and Akman did not attend the fourth hearing on 19 October.
The court ruled to adjourn the trial awaiting response from the Turkish General Staff and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) concerning a writ in which the court inquired about the photographs on which the charges against the journalists are based.
The trial’s final hearing took place on 1 March 2019.
The response from the Turkish General Staff said the location photographed by Alayumat was not categorized as “confidential.”
The prosecution then requested for Alayumat and Akman’s acquittal of the “espionage” charge. The prosecution however requested that Alayumat be convicted of the “membership in a terrorist group” charge.
In its verdict, the Hatay 2nd High Criminal Court acquitted both Alayumat and Akman of both charges.
The court however ruled to file new charges against both journalists — on the allegation of “unauthorized photography of military zone” against Alayumat; and on the allegation of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” against Akman, on account of his social media posts.