Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, the chairman of Ulusal Parti (National Party) and chief columnist for the Türk Solu (Turkish Left) magazine, was taken into custody on August 31, 2016, as part of an investigation against the “media branch of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY).”
Arrest warrants against 35 people including Çulhaoğlu were issued as part of the investigation, where the majority of the suspects are either journalists or academics.
Upon finding out about the investigation, Çulhaoğlu reported to the Çağlayan Courthouse in Istanbul, where he was taken into custody by the police upon the prosecutor’s request. Çulhaoğlu and 11 others who were detained as part of the investigation testified before a prosecutor on September 2, 2016. Eight of the suspects, including Çulhaoğlu, were referred to a night court for arrest. In the early hours of September 3, the court issued an order for the arrest of Çulhaoğlu alongside journalists Murat Aksoy, Atilla Taş and Mutlu Çölgeçen on grounds that they “aided a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The indictment against Çulhaoğlu and 28 other suspects, a large number of whom are journalists, seeks prison sentences of up to 15 years for each suspect on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Citing his social media posts and excerpts from several of his books and columns, the indictment states that it is “conceived that Çulhaoğlu manipulated the public opinion on behalf of the organization and thus is a member of the organization.” The prosecutor pointed out that although the grounds for Çulhaoğlu’s initial arrest was “aiding a terrorist organization,” the charge against him was now confirmed as “membership in a terrorist organization,” based on the social media posts and excerpts in the indictment.
Çulhaoğlu gave his defense statement during the first hearing of the case, held on March 27-31, 2017, at the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court. On the last day of the hearing, the prosecutor requested the release of 13 defendants including Çulhaoğlu, and the panel of judges ordered the release of 21 of the 26 suspects under arrest, including the 13 suspects for whom the prosecution sought release. However, the same day in the evening hours, news arrived that yet another investigation on charges of “attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order” had been opened against the 13 defendants who had just been released and thus Çulhaoğlu and his 12 co-defendants were taken into custody once again as they were leaving the prison premises. Following a two-week period of detention at the Istanbul anti-terror police headquarters, Çulhaoğlu and 11 others were jailed pending trial, this time on the new coup related charges, on April 14, 2017.
The second hearing of the “FETÖ media leg” trial, where Çulhaoğlu is charged with “membership in a terrorist organization,” was held on April 27, 2017. No observers were allowed into the courtroom, except for a limited number of journalists.
The next hearing was held on July 6. At the end of the court session, the panel of judges, which was the third new panel since the beginning of the proceedings, ruled for continued detention for all detained suspects in line with the prosecutor’s request.
The first hearing in the case where Çulhaoğlu and 12 others were facing two aggravated life sentences on coup charges, was held on August 16-17, 2017. At the end of the session, Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar, two former correspondents for the shuttered news outlets Aksiyon magazine and Bugün daily, respectively, were released under judicial control, while Çulhaoğlu and other defendants remained behind bars. The judges also ruled that the said case be merged with the “FETÖ media leg” trial, where the suspects faced “membership in a terrorist organization” charges. The first hearing post the merging of the two cases was held on October 24, 2017, at the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court. At the end of the court session, the judges ruled for the release of journalist Murat Aksoy and Atilla Taş.
No new release orders were issued in the trial’s hearing on December 3 and 4.
The third hearing in the trial after two separate case files were merged in August took place on February 6, 2018.
During the hearing, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion on the case, requesting the court to acquit 13 defendants of the “coup” charge. He requested that all but three defendants, Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık, are convicted of “membership in FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization” while the rest of the defendants are convicted of “aiding FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure.” The prosecutor also requested the release of Çulhaoğlu on account of the changed accusation.
The 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on February 22 and 23 heard the final defense statements of 26 defendants in the case. Thirteen defendants addressed the court on those two days, at the end of which the court adjourned the trial until March 7 and 8 to hear the remaining defense statements.
The court announced its verdict at the end of the March 7-8 hearing, convicting 25 defendants, including Çulhaoğlu, of terroism-related charges. The court sentenced Çulhaoğlu and 10 of his co-defendants to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and ruled for the continuation of detention of the imprisoned defendants in the case.
In October, the appeals against prison sentences given to 25 defendants in the case were rejected by an appellate court. The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rendered its decision on 22 October. The court made the ruling without a public hearing despite the defense lawyers’ requests for a hearing. The appellate court also ruled for the continuation of detention of all jailed defendants in the case.
Convictions against the journalists are now expected to be taken to the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Çulhaoğlu is still detained in the Silivri Prison in Istanbul.