Two released in “coup” case where 13 journalists are on trial
On August 18, a Turkish court ruled for the release of two journalists in the first hearing of a “coup attempt” related trial where thirteen journalists, 12 of whom are in prison, stand accused of attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order.
The court ruled to keep the remaining 10 journalists in prison.
The defendants were all suspects in another trial where they were accused of “membership in a terrorist organization.” In March, they were released, only to be detained a few hours later as part of another investigation on charges of participating in the coup attempt of July 15, 2016. The charges in the new indictment are “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government or render it unable to fulfil its duties.” The prosecution seeks two consecutive life terms without the possibility of parole for each defendants.
The defendants are Habertürk TV broadcasts coordinator Abdullah Kılıç, Zaman newspaper news manager Ali Akkuş, former pop singer and Meydan newspaper columnist Atilla Taş, Aksiyon news weekly’s reporter Bünyamin Köseli, Bugün daily reporter Cihan Acar, Türk Solu magazine’s chief columnist Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Cihan news agency reporter Hüseyin Aydın, Yeni Şafak and Millet writer Murat Aksoy, Özgür Düşünce editor Erkan Acar, Habertürk TV coordinator Oğuz Usluer, TRT News reporter Seyid Kılıç, Zaman’s court reporter Yakup Çetin and Aktif Haber news website editor-in-chief Yetkin Yıldız.
The trial on August 16-18 was heard by the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court, which ruled for the release of Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar under judicial probation measures and an international travel ban. The court also ruled to keep judicial control measures for Ali Akkuş, who was released earlier pending trial, in place.
The court also ruled to merge the “coup attempt” trial with the other trial where the journalists were earlier charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” but released on March 31. The first session in the merged trial will be heard on October 24.
In that other trial, there are a total of 29 suspects, who are accused of being part of the media arm of the “Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ),” the name used by Turkish authorities for the group allegedly behind the July 15 coup attempt. When 21 suspects — including the 13 who were tried on August 16-18 on new charges — were released in March, the judges sitting on the panel of the court were removed from their position, as well as the prosecutor assigned to the trial.
Testimony from defendants
The trial began at the Istanbul Courthouse on August 16. In the first day, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç, Bünyamin Köseli and Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu submitted their defense statements.
Acar, who recalled the night of his release that never came and his immediate detention on coup charges in his testimony said: “It wasn’t me who was on trial that night. It was my mother, my sister and my family. I wanted to die so many times during that night.”
The former Bugün reporter, who has been imprisoned for 13 months, said he was getting professional help from a psychiatrist. In response to the allegations that he had had phone conversation with individuals who were being investigated for terror crimes, or for using an encrypted communications app called ByLock, Acar said all of the conversations had taken place during work hours and were obviously calls made to get statements or views as a journalist.
He said according to news reports, the application ByLock — allegedly used by members of the Fethullah Gülen network — was used by 215,000 individuals. He added: “If every single user speaks to 100 other people on the phone, that would make 21 million people. Can all those people be considered guilty?”
Habertürk TV Broadcasts Coordinator Abdullah Kılıç in his defense statement said that he posted many tweets condemning the coup attempt on the night of July 15.
He said the indictment treats his employment at Meydan newspaper for 11 months as a crime. He also said that phone records showing 20 instances of conversations with terror suspects or ByLock users were all related to conversations he had as part of his journalism activities.
Bünyamin Köseli, said on the day of the coup attempt, he was busy compiling documents to open an antiques shop. “Would anyone who knows that a coup attempt will take place on the night of the same day try to start a new business? Am I participating in the coup by trying to launch an antiques stores while someone else plots a coup?”
TürkSolu writer Çulhaoğlu in his statement said he has been “against FETÖ from the get go.” He said: “You can’t make a coup supporter out of Gökçe Fırat. You can’t ever make a FETÖist coup supporter.”
He added: “Journalism cannot be grounds for accusations. Only readers can punish journalism.”
Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Erkan Acar, Oğuz Usluer, Atilla Taş, Seyid Kılıç and Yakup Çetin testified on the second day of the trial.
Hüseyin Aydın said he worked as a reporter for Cihan news agency; adding that the money found in his accounts in Bank Asya — affiliated with the Fethullah Gülen network — are only his salary payments. He said he was only being accused of such a grave accusation as helping a coup attempt just for working at Cihan.
“How can I possibly know someone I talked with had ByLock,” he said in response to allegations that he conversed with ByLock users on the phone.
“Journalism is not a crime”
Murat Aksoy, who testified next in the trial, said he always asked for “more democracy, more freedom and more justice.”
“Unfortunately we are defending journalism today. Journalism is not a crime, even if you don’t like it or if you criticize it.” He also responded to allegations stemming from talking to 12 ByLock users, traveling abroad and working at the Taraf daily for seven months.
“If extending criticism is a crime, then I can be accused. But I am being tried for two life sentences over phone conversations with 13 people.”
Erkan Acar, who testified next, said the indictment treated the Özgür Düşünce newspaper where he worked as a criminal publication. He said the newspaper was a legally established publication.
Usluer: A journalist can talk to anyone
In his defense testimony, Oğuz Usluer said the prosecutor had failed to provide evidence showing that he helped the coup plot. “I am a journalist and a journalist can talk to anyone. We can report on any event where we see a benefit for the common good,” he said.
“Am I one of Zeus’s subjects?”
Atilla Taş, a former pop singer and later a columnist for the Meydan newspaper, also submitted his defense testimony. Taş’s testimony was emotional and at times, he couldn’t hold back tears. He denied all accusations regarding participating in the coup attempt: “I would have killed myself if I were guilty in the slightest sense.”
Recalling a recent statement from the Turkish justice minister that “there is not a single subject of God in Turkey imprisoned for posting a tweet,” Atilla Taş said: “Am I one of Zeus’s subjects? I am being accused based on my tweets.” Taş asked for his release at the end of his statement.
Journalists Seyid Kılıç and Yakup Çetin also denied the accusations. Kılıç said he had never been investigated for any of his reporting, and that he always defended the law and democracy.
“Two trials based on the same accusation”
Journalists Ali Akkuş and Yetkin Yıldız submitted their defense statements on the final day of the trial. Yıldız said the accusations leveled against him in the new indictment was not in the slightest different from the first indictment in the earlier trial where he was released: “I am being accused of ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ in one trial, and ‘attempting a coup’ in another, based on completely the same accusations.”
Similarly, Akkuş who was released pending trial, said there were no new allegations against him. “Since one person cannot be tried twice on the same accusations, I demand that this case be dropped,” Akkuş said.
DİHA reporter arrested
Mehmet Sıddık Damar, formerly a reporter for the shuttered news agency DİHA, was arrested and put in prison on August 18 over his social media posts in Mardin’s Kızıltepe district.
Damar went to the Kızıltepe Courthouse to testify in an investigation against him. He was referred to court on charges of “propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization.” The court ruled for his arrest on the same charges and Damar was sent to Mardin Prison.
Following the release of two journalists in the coup attempt trial and Damar’s imprisonment, the total number of journalists in jail whose names are known publicly changed to 170. For a full list of imprisoned journalists, click here.
Writer Akhanlı arrested in Spain on Turkish request
Turkish-born German writer and human rights defender Doğan Akhanlı was arrested in the Spanish city of Granada after Turkey issued an Interpol warrant for him.
Akhanlı, a member of PEN International, was arrested during a police ID check when it turned out that there was an Interpol “red notice” on him. Reports said the 60-year-old writer, who has been living in Cologne, Germany since 1992, might be held in Spain until authorities decide whether to extradite him to Turkey.
Restrictions imposed on Meşale Tolu trial
Various restrictions have been introduced in the case of ETHA translator and reporter Meşale Tolu, who will appear before a court on October 11-12 as per a ruling of the Istanbul 29th High Criminal Court.
According to the new rules adopted by the court for the trial of Tolu, who also has German citizenship, no more than five journalists from foreign agencies will be allowed inside the courtroom. National media reporters will be vetted for security and only one person from the same media organization will be allowed inside the courtroom. Meanwhile, for family members and others who would like to attend the trial, special cards will be issued for entry into the courtroom after their credentials are reviewed by the court.
Tolu faces up to 20 years in prison on terror-related charges.