Attorney Mustafa Kemal Güngör, a Cumhuriyet Foundation board member, was detained by police on October 31, 2016 as part of the investigation into Cumhuriyet writers and executives.
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, 2016 coup attempt. The statement said those detained were accused of “committing a crime on behalf of PKK/KCK and FETÖ/PDY without being member.” A confidentiality order was imposed on the investigation also at this time.
Güngör and the other executives and journalists detained as part of the probe were referred to the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace, with the prosecutor demanding they be imprisoned pending trial. The prosecutor in his referral claimed that for the past three years the Cumhuriyet newspaper “obscured the truth through manipulation, acted in line with the purposes of terrorist organizations FETÖ/PDY and PKK/KCK and published stories that aimed to stir internal chaos and render the country unmanageable.”
On November 5, Güngör and eight others were arrested on charges of “conducting activities on behalf of a terrorist organization while not being a member” by a ruling of the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace.
An indictment that came much later accused Güngör of “aiding a terrorist organization while not being a member” and “abuse of trust,” demanding between 9.5 to 29 years for him.
As evidence, the indictment said that his phone records showed communications with four individuals who used ByLock, the alleged secret communications app of the “FETÖ/PDY” organization, which the Turkish authorities say was behind the July 15, 2016 coup attempt — and one person who was being investigated for suspected links with the Gülen network.
The prosecution states that Güngör 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.
An additional charge for Güngör, who is a member of the Board of the Directors of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, is “making 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 for these charges.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), in response to an application from Güngör and the other Cumhuriyet writers and executives, has demanded a formal response from the Turkish government about allegations of rights violations during the custody and pre-trial detention processes of the Cumhuriyet writers; setting a deadline for October 2, 2017.
The first hearings in the case took place between July 24-28, 2017, in a trial being heard by the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court.
In his court statement, Güngör said, “Not even the Spanish Inquisition has seen such a state of law.” He said a legal provision referred to in the indictment had been canceled by the Constitutional Court. “We are accused on the basis of legislation that is no longer valid.”
Güngör said he started working as a lawyer for Cumhuriyet in 1992. “I was elected as a board member at the Cumhuriyet Foundation on February 18, 2014. Currently, I am not being accused on the basis of any concrete action, but only because of my titles as a board member.”
“Those who have launched this trial know that Cumhuriyet or its writers would never help a terrorist organization. Apparently, they have decided to accuse us, to arrest us, to try us and to torture us. But we will not submit in the face of cruelty, fear and unlawfulness.”
He said as a Cumhuriyet reader of 43 years, he had first heard of Fethullah Gülen from articles by Hikmet Çetinkaya, penned 35-40 years prior. “Not only that, I have also defended the newspaper and Hikmet Çetinkaya as legal counsel in dozens of trials initiated by Fethullah Gülen against the Cumhuriyet newspaper.”
The lawyer recalled that the prosecutor who led the criminal investigation, Murat İnam, is also on trial on FETÖ-related charges; facing life in prison without the possibility of parole. “The prosecutor has been taken hostage,” he said.
He said Cumhuriyet’s editorial policy cannot be a subject of interest for the prosecution. “What’s more, Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editorial policy hasn’t changed,” he said.
The full text of Güngör’s defense statement (in Turkish) can be read here.
The court, in its interim ruling issued at the end of the five-day trial on July 28, released Güngör and six others pending trial, on the condition of judicial control, which consists of an overseas travel ban.
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 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, and setting March 9, 2018, as the date of the next hearing.
At the end of the March 9 hearing, reporter Ahmet Şık and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu were released from pretrial detention 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 Güngör, are convicted on the charge 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 Güngör, of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Güngör was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison but remains free pending the outcome of the 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 Mustafa Kemal Güngör, 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.