Hakan Kara, a Cumhuriyet columnist and a 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 issued following 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 a member.” A confidentiality order was imposed on the investigation also at this time.
Kara and eight others who were detained on October 31 were jailed pending trial on November 5, 2016, by the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace for “aiding 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 second hearing of the trial was held on September 11, 2017, at the courtroom inside the Silivri Prison premises. A detailed report about the trial, 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 suspects delivered statements during the hearing, in which Cumhuriyet columnist Kadri Gürsel was released pending judgment.
During the fourth hearing, held on October 31, digital forensics expert Tuncay Beşikçi testified in relation to the encrypted 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 fifth 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 terms imposed on the other defendants in the case, and setting March 9, 2018, as the date of the next hearing.
At the end of the March 9 hearing, held in the courtroom inside the Silivri Prison compound, the court released reporter Ahmet Şık and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu pending the conclusion of the trial while ordering the continuation of the detention of Akın Atalay. The court also set March 16 as the date of the next hearing.
During the seventh hearing on March 16, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, requesting that 13 members of the Cumhuriyet staff, including columnist Hakan Kara, are convicted on charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member.”
The defendants presented their final defense statements at the following hearing of the case, which were held on April 24-25, in Silivri. On April 25, the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul announced its verdict, convicting 14 Cumhuriyet journalists and executives, including Kara, of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Kara was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison, though he remains free pending appeal.
The court ruled to impose judicial control measures on all defendants in the case who were handed down prison sentences. All of the defendants charged with “abuse of authority” in the indictment were acquitted of that charge.
The Turkish-language indictment into Cumhuriyet executives and writers can be accessed here.
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 Hakan Kara, 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.