Hakan Kara, a Cumhuriyet columnist and and member of Cumhuriyet Foundation’s Board of Directors, was detained on October 31, 2016 as part of the investigation into the newspaper’s executives and columnists.
The Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s office in a statement 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 seeking to legitimize the July 15 coup attempt. The statement said those detained were accused of “committing a crime on behalf of the PKK/KCK and the FETÖ/PDY without being member.” A confidentiality order was imposed on the investigation also at this time.
Kara and eight others who were detained on October 31 were put imprisoned pending trial on November 5, 2016 by the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace for “helping a terrorist organization without being its member.”
An indictment prepared into the suspects much later accuses Kara of “helping a terrorist organization without being its member” and “abuse of trust in office”, asking for 9.5 to 29 years in prison for the journalist.
Phone records cited in the indictment show that Kara was contacted by two people who allegedly used ByLock, a chat application which is said to have been exclusively used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network — which Turkish authorities say was behind the July 15 coup attempt, and two others who were being investigated in relation with the Fethullah Gülen network.
The prosecution states that Kara acted together with those who were elected to the board of Cumhuriyet in 2013 to make a “radical change in the newspaper’s editorial policy.” The prosecution says board members are legally liable for the newspaper’s editorial policy.
Charges in connection with the “abuse of trust” stem from allegations that he was involved in “giving loans to a company with a high debt risk” and that he caused the company to lose profits through the sale of property. The prosecution seeks between two to 14 years on the basis of these charges.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in response to a an application from Kara and the other Cumhuriyet writers and executives, has demanded a formal response from the Turkish government about allegations of rights violations during the detention and arrest processes of the Cumhuriyet writers; setting a deadline for October 2, 2017.
On July 26, on the third day of the first hearing of Cumhuriyet trial, Kara denied all the accusations leveled against him. “Neither I nor any member of my family have taken a cent from FETÖ.” Referring to former Fethullah Gülen follower and Zaman writer Hüseyin Gülerce, he said, “The patented FETÖist Hüseyin Gülerce is outside, I am in prison. Not a single Cumhuriyet journalist has ever been on a plane to Pennsylvania,” referring to where the Islamic cleric is currently based.
He said he has contributed to environmental awareness through columns on endangered species of flowers and animals endemic to Turkey.
In his court statement, he also accused the prosecutor of reaching his own conclusions from his articles.
He said Cumhuriyet “has fought FETÖ for 40 years.”
Kara also asked for his news archive, seized by police, to be returned.
Full text of Kara’s defense statement at the court can be read here (in Turkish).
The Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court ruled, at the end of the five-day hearing, to release Kara and six other imprisoned defendants, pending completion of trial. The court decided to bar Kara and other released defendants from traveling abroad.
The next hearing of Kara’s trial will be held in a courtroom inside the Silivri prison compound on September 11. The presiding judge said the court plans to complete the trial by end of 2017.
The Turkish-language indictment into Cumhuriyet executives and writers can be accessed here.