Musa Kart, Cumhuriyet’s renowned cartoonist, was taken into police custody on October 31, 2016 along with other executives and employees of the newspaper on charges of “helping FETÖ and PKK, while not being a member of those organizations.”
In his first remarks after he learned of the custody warrant in place for him, Kart said: “We are really experiencing a comedy. This is a ridiculous situation. It is impossible for anyone who has a conscience to accept this portrait. I am being detained today just because I draw cartoons.”
No stranger to court cases over his political cartoons, Kart was in the spotlight in 2004 when he was ordered to pay a compensation to then Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for drawing a cartoon of him as a cat tangled up in yarn on charges of “attacking personal rights.” The case was overruled later in the appeals process and the demand to pay compensation was rejected at the end of the retrial.
On November 5, 2016, Musa Kart was was arrested by court along with the other Cumhuriyet executives and writers who were detained with him.
An indictment into him, accepted by the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court, seeks between 9.5 to 29 years for him on charges of “helping a terrorist organization while not being its member” and “abuse of trust in office.”
The cartoonist in his defense statement said Cumhuriyet had no links to terrorist organization, highlighting that very harsh articles criticizing the coup attempt were published in the newspaper and that he personally has no authority over defining the newspaper’s editorial policy or headlines.
The indictment states that there were phone communication records showing Kart had contact with four people who were being investigated for suspected involvement in the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization — the official name given to the Fethullah Gülen network — and with two others who allegedly used ByLock, a communication application allegedly used exclusively by Gülen followers to plot against the government. According to the prosecutor, all of these stand as evidence for Kart’s involvement in a terrorist organization. The indictment further states that Cumhuriyet’s editorial policy saw “radical changes” after the year 2013, when leadership of the foundation changed hands; which is confirmed by observations from witnesses. The prosecution says the current administration of the Cumhuriyet Foundation was unlawfully taken over by Kart and the other board members. The new board, the prosecution alleges, shifted Cumhuriyet’s editorial policy to cause the newspaper to “cast the actions of armed terrorist organizations like the FETÖ/PDY – Kurdistan Workers’ Party- Kurdish Communities’ Union (PKK/KCK) – the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) as legitimate acts.”
The prosecution seeks a total of 29 years in prison for Kart; demanding 15 years on terror charges and an additional 14 years for “abuse of trust in office.”
Lawyers for 10 Cumhuriyet journalists and executives, including Kart, applied to the European Court of Human Rights in March, 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.
Kart and the other Cumhuriyet journalists and executives appeared for the first time before the court between July 24-28, 2017 at the first hearing of their trial at the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court.
Kart, who testified on July 24, said a phone call he had made to book a holiday was presented as evidence indicating “affiliation with a terrorist organization” in the indictment. “I was incarcerated in Silivri in a cell with a view of concrete for nine months while I was hoping to spend three days in a Bodrum hotel with a view of the sea. This is not something you can simply brush off as a booking error!”
The cartoonist was released late July 28 evening after the court ruled for his release along with six other Cumhuriyet employees pending completion of trial. The court barred Kart and the six other Cumhuriyet employees from traveling abroad.
The second hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial was held on September 11, 2017 at the 27 High Criminal Court of Istanbul in Silivri.
At the third hearing on September 25, 2017, three witnesses testified and the court ordered the release of columnist Kadri Gürsel, while ordering the continuation of the detention of other co-defendants on remand.
The 27th High Criminal Court held the fourth hearing in the case on October 31, 2017, when it issued yet another interim ruling, ordering the continued detention of journalists jailed as part of this case.
On December 25, 2017, the fifth hearing was cut short when co-defendant Ahmet Şık was expelled from the courtroom after the presiding judge said his defense statement was “political” and would not be allowed. In response, Akın Atalay refused to present his defense statement. The defense lawyers also demanded the recusal of the judges, saying they are no longer impartial. The presiding judge then said that, under the law, the court can only deal with matters requiring urgent attention and should not continue with proceedings since a motion for recusal has been filed. The court then issued an interim ruling, stating that the motion for recusal would be referred to the 28th High Criminal Court of Istanbul and that none of the imprisoned defendants would be released, and set March 9, 2018, as the date of the next hearing.
At the end of the March 9 hearing, Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Şık and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu were released the Silivri Prison pending the conclusion of the trial. The court ordered the continuation of the detention of Akın Atalay, and it 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 Kart, 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 staff members, including Kart, of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Kart was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison but the court did not order his re-arrest.
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 Musa Kart, 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.