Gökmen Ulu, the İzmir correspondent of the Sözcü daily was detained on May 19, 2017 in relation with a news report published on the newspaper’s website during the day on July 15, 2016, the night of the failed coup attempt in Turkey.
Ulu was one of four Sözcü journalists — including the newspaper’s owner 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, the responsible editor for Sözcü’s internet website, Mediha Olgun, and the newspaper’s Financial Affairs Manager Yonca Yücekaleli, who had been detained along with Ulu, were referred to the İstanbul 8th Criminal Judgeship of Peace with the prosecutor demanding their arrest. In his referral, the prosecutor accused Ulu of “knowingly and deliberately aiding the organization without being part of its internal hierarchy,” aiding a planned assassination and 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.”
The court released Ulu pending the conclusion of the trial on November 8, 2017, at the end of the first hearing of the case.