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.
The trial of nine executives and employees of Sözcü newspaper on terrorism-related charges resumed on 15 March 2019 at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
A recent indictment that accuses Sözcü columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru, the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Metin Yılmaz, website news coordinator Yücel Arı and website editor Mustafa Çetin of “aiding the terrorist organization ‘FETÖ’ without being part of its hierarchical structure” was merged in January with the ongoing case into the daily’s former website news director Mediha Olgun, Financial Affairs Manager Yonca Yücekaleli, Izmir correspondent Gökmen Ulu and former publisher Burak Akbay on the charges of “leading an armed terror organization,” “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “aiding FETÖ while not being its members.” An arrest warrant is still in place for Akbay, who is abroad.
This was the sixth hearing in the trial and the first courtroom hearing after the two files were merged.
Ulu was in attendance as well as his co-defendants Metin Yılmaz, Mustafa Çetin, Necati Doğru, Yücel Arı, Mediha Olgun and Yonca Yücekaleli. Columnist Emin Çölaşan addressed the court via the courtroom video-conferencing system SEGBİS from Ankara. The prosecution requested additional time for their final opinion because of the vast extent of the file. The defendants then told the court that they would not make any statements at this point. Mediha Olgun asked to be acquitted. Defense lawyers requested that the court ask for a new expert opinion, which the court rejected. The lawyers also requested the expansion of the investigation and said the submission of the final opinion without the completion of the case file would lead to violations of the right to defense and the right to a fair trial. The prosecution requested that the court reject all requests and the continuation of the arrest warrant for Akbay.
Issuing an interim ruling, the court rejected the defense lawyers’ requests. Granting additional time to the prosecution for their final opinion, the court adjourned the trial until 18 April 2019.
The “Sözcü trial” resumed on 18 April 2019. Defendants Gökmen Ulu, Necati Doğru, Mustafa Çetin, Yücel Arı, Mediha Olgun, Yonca Yücekaleli and Metin Yılmaz were in attendance at the seventh hearing with their lawyers. Emin Çölaşan participated from Ankara via SEGBİS. The prosecutor announced that the 17-page final opinion he drafted has been added to the case file a day before the hearing, on 17 April. The prosecution seeks jail sentences between 5 to 10 years for Ulu, Çölaşan, Doğru, Yılmaz, Çetin, Arı and Yücekaleli. The prosecutor also asked the court to convict Mediha Olgun of the “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” charge and requested for her to benefit from effective remorse provisions. He then went on to request the case file into the newspaper’s former publisher Burak Akbay, who has not made his defense statement yet, to be separated from the current case.
In response, defendants and their representing lawyers asked for a continuance to review the final opinion. The judges said the court will wait for the execution of Akbay’s arrest warrant and that procedures for the issuing of a red notice for Akbay would be implemented. Granting additional time for the defendants and their lawyers to prepare their final defense statements, the court set 14 June 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
The trial of nine employees of the Sözcü newspaper on the charge of “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization without being its member” resumed on 14 June 2019 at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. This was the eighth hearing in the case.
Gökmen Ulu was in attendance during the hearing. Making his final defense statement in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion during the hearing, Ulu rejected the accusations and requested to be acquitted.
Two of Ulu’s co-defendants and the defense lawyers requested a continuance for the final defense statements. In its interim ruling, the court granted additional time for the defense statements and adjourned the trial until 4 September 2019.