Güray Öz, who is the news ombudsman and a columnist for Cumhuriyet, is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Cumhuriyet Foundation.
Öz was taken into custody on October 31, 2016, at an early morning raid on his Ankara home as part of the wider operation targeting Cumhuriyet executives and columnists. He was later flown to Istanbul, where the probe was being conducted. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, in a statement issued after the arrests, said that the Cumhuriyet Foundation executives were being investigated “for supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) and Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)” and in connection with allegations that the newspaper had published reports legitimizing the July 15 coup attempt. The statement said those arrested were accused of “committing a crime on behalf of PKK/KCK and FETÖ/PDY without being member.”
On November 5, 2016, the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace ruled to jail nine Cumhuriyet executives and employees, including Öz, pending trial.
The indictment, which was prepared much later in the process, seeks between 8.5 to 22 years for Öz on charges of “aiding a terrorist organization while not being a member” and “abuse of trust.”
The prosecution claims that Öz is a suspect because he has had phone conversations with a person who allegedly used ByLock, an encrypted messaging application allegedly used exclusively by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network, and with another person who was being investigated on suspicion of having links to what the authorities call the “FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization.” The prosecutor also maintains Öz consistently “failed to relay the negative reactions and disturbances expressed by the newspaper’s readers about Cumhuriyet’s new editorial policy to the management.” The prosecution says that Öz “acted together with the other suspects who came to the helm of the Cumhuriyet Foundation in 2013 and made a radical change to the newspaper’s editorial policy.”
Additionally, the indictment seeks between one to seven years for Öz regarding a loan given to a company by the foundation, accusing him of “abusing trust in office.”
Lawyers for 10 Cumhuriyet journalists and executives applied to the European Court of Human Rights in March 2017, more than three months after filing an application with Turkey’s Constitutional Court for their release on the grounds that their detention constitutes rights violations. The European court notified the lawyers in April that although their application is not given formal priority treatment under Rules of Court, it will be discussed “as soon as possible.” In June, the court revealed that it has asked the Turkish government to respond to a set of questions pertaining to the rights violations complaints raised in the application until October 2, 2017.
Öz appeared before a court for the first time during the first hearing of the trial on July 24-28, 2017. He gave his statement on the second day of the week, saying: “The fact that the prosecutors are talking about a change in editorial policy is concrete proof that the subject of this trial are news reports, articles and writings — or, in other words, journalism. This is exactly why the prosecutors are only talking about news stories, articles and front-page headlines.” Öz stated that a person with whom he’s said to have communicated with in the indictment is the owner of a fastfood restaurant in Çankaya, Ankara. He said it was impossible for him to know that the owner of the restaurant from where he occasionally orders food was being investigated for any reason.
The full text of Öz’s defense statement at the court can be read here (in Turkish).
At the end of the first week of the trial, the court ruled to release seven of the defendants in the case, including Öz, with an international travel ban, but ruled to keep the remaining five, four of whom are Cumhuriyet journalists, in pre-trial detention.
The second hearing of the trial was held on September 11, 2017, at the courtroom inside the Silivri Prison premises. A detailed report about the hearing, in which no new release decisions were rendered, can be reached here.
The third hearing was held on September 25 at the Çağlayan courthouse. Three defendants delivered defense statements during the hearing, in which Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gürsel was released pending the conclusion of the trial.
During the fourth hearing, held on October 31, digital forensics expert Tuncay Beşikçi testified in relation to the messaging application ByLock. During the hearing, a new piece of evidence was introduced by the investigating prosecutor despite objection from defense attorneys. The session concluded without any new release orders.
The hearing scheduled for December 25 and 26 was concluded earlier than expected after defendant Ahmet Şık’s defense statement was cut short on grounds that it was “political” and Şık was removed from the courtroom. On the first day, after the presiding judge had Şık expelled from the courtroom on grounds that he “disrupted the order of the proceedings,” Cumhuriyet’s lawyers filed for a recusal. The panel of judges then decided that it would not be possible to hear the two witnesses who were expected to testify during the hearing and went on to issue an interim ruling, ordering the continuation of detention of the defendants on remand and of the judicial control measures imposed on the other defendants in the case. The court postponed the trial to March 9, 2018.
At the end of the March 9 hearing, the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled for the release of editor in chief Murat Sabuncu and reporter Ahmet Şık pending the conclusion of the trial while ordering the continuation of the detention of Akın Atalay, the chairman of the newspaper’s executive board. The court also set March 16 as the date of the next hearing.
The prosecutor submitted his final opinion during the seventh hearing held on March 16, demanding prison sentences for 14 members of the staff of Cumhuriyet. The prosecutor requested that 13 members of the staff, including ombudsman Öz, are convicted on charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member.”
The court announced its verdict at the final hearing on held on April 24-25, 2018, convicting 14 Cumhuriyet columnists and executives, including Öz, of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Öz was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison though he remains free pending appeal.
All of the defendants charged with “abuse of authority” in the indictment were acquitted of that charge while the court ruled to impose judicial control measures on all of the defendants who were handed down prison sentences.
You can read the full indictment into Cumhuriyet journalists and executives here (in Turkish).
On 18 February 2019, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, an appellate court, upheld the convictions in the Cumhuriyet trial.
While Akın Atalay, Ahmet Şık, Aydın Engin, Hikmet Çetinkaya, Murat Sabuncu and Orhan Erinç can appeal the verdict with the Supreme Court of Appeals, eight of the defendants in the case, including Güray Öz, will have to return to prison to serve the remainder of the sentences they were imposed since prison terms under five years cannot be appealed further once they are upheld by an appellate court.