Gökmen Ulu, the Izmir correspondent of the Sözcü daily, was detained on May 19, 2017, in connection with a news report published on the newspaper’s website on July 15, 2016, the day on which the failed coup attempt in Turkey was to take place later at night.
Ulu was one of four Sözcü employees — including the newspaper’s publisher Burak Akbay — for whom arrest warrants had been issued as part of an investigation regarding the same news report.
In the morning of May 19, Ulu, who had found out about the detention warrant issued for him from the media, waited in front of his home for the police. When that did not happen, he decided to head for the İstanbul Courthouse together with his lawyer to turn himself in. However, the journalist and his lawyer were stopped by the police on the way, and told to go back home. The police oficers said they were still waiting on orders from the Prosecutor’s Office to detain him. Ulu was taken into police custody in his home later that evening under suspicion of “committing a crime on behalf of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization – Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY),” — the official name given to the group allegedly behind the July 15 coup attempt — “without being a member of the organization.”
On May 26, Ulu was referred to the Istanbul 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace along with Mediha Olgun, the responsible editor for Sözcü’s website, and Yonca Yücekaleli, the newspaper’s financial affairs manager, who were both detained along with Ulu. The prosecutor requested their arrest. In his referral, the prosecutor accused Ulu of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” “aiding a planned assassination and a physical assault on the president,” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”
According to the logs from the court session, Ulu in his defense statement said that he was “shocked” by the severe accusations levelled against him, adding that he had filed the report and photographs showing the holiday location of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Marmaris as a journalistic activity and that Erdoğan’s holiday location being Marmaris had been known to the public previously. He said that the news of this had been published in various other news outlets prior to Sözcü’s report. Ulu also said that he was one of the several journalists who went to the location where Erdoğan was staying and reported on a statement from Erdoğan shortly after the coup attempt.
The Istanbul 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace rejected the prosecutor’s request for arresting Ulu on the charge of “membership in FETÖ/PDY” or that he was “part of the internal hierarchy of the organization,” but accepted the arrest request on charges of “knowingly and deliberately aiding the terrorist organization” and “aiding the planned assassination of and a physical assault on the president.” The court also ruled to put Olgun in pre-trial detention, while it let the finance administrator, Yücekaleli, go.
The indictment into Akbay, Ulu, Olgun and Yücekaleli was accepted on October 6, 2017, by the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Akbay risks up to 30 years in prison for “managing an armed terrorist organization and spreading its propaganda,” while the other three face up to 15 years for “aiding a terrorist organization while not being a part of its hierarchical structure.”
Ulu was released at the end of the first hearing of the case, on November 8, 2017. The court adjourned the trial until January 23, 2018.
The second hearing took place on 23 January at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. P24 monitored the hearing. The court heard journalists Rahmi Turan and Fehmi Koru as witnesses. Koru told the court during his testimony that his allegations about Akbay in an article he penned, which constitute the basis for accusations against Akbay in the case, were baseless. The trial was adjourned until 30 May 2018.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 30 May. None of the defendants were in attendance. Akbay’s lawyer Celal Ülgen requested for additional time for defense statements. Lawyers also requested the travel ban on Ulu and Olgun to be lifted. The court rejected the requests and adjourned the trial until 7 November, awaiting the execution of the arrest warrant for Akbay.
None of the defendants were in attendance during the fourth hearing on 7 November. P24 monitored the hearing. Akbay’s lawyer Celal Ülgen requested the arrest warrant for his client to be lifted. Defense lawyers also requested that the judicial control measures imposed on the other defendants be lifted. The court rejected all requests and ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecutor for the drafting of their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 12 March 2019.