Turhan Günay, veteran journalist and editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet Kitap who has been at the helm of the said book supplement for 25 years, was arrested on October 31, 2016 along with eight staff members and members of the executive board of the foundation that publishes the daily.
At the end of five days in police detention, Günay was interrogated by Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz. In response to the questions Yılmaz posed to him, Günay repeated the same answer 31 times:
“I am not currently a member of the Executive Board of the Cumhuriyet Foundation. I was only a member between 2011 and 2013. First of all, I think the question is wrong. I don’t hold a position at the Cumhuriyet Foundation, I am not an executive there. I was only a corporate executive of the news agency between, probably, 2011 and 2013.”
Rejecting the accusation that he acted on behalf of “FETÖ/PDY and PKK/KCK armed terrorist organizations while not being a member,” Günay continued:
“During my tenure at the newspaper I used to deal with the publication of periodical supplements. Between the years 2011 and 2013, I was a member of the executive board of the company that published the newspaper. That was the company that produced and printed the daily. I don’t know that the newspaper’s centerline was tilted in a direction that favored the FETÖ/PDY during my time there. I don’t have information regarding whether staff members supporting FETÖ/PDY were being hired or not.”
A statement from the prosecutor’s office on the arrest of Turhan Günay and others from Cumhuriyet said that they were taken in for spreading propaganda for the PKK and FETÖ/PDY. The statement also cited alleged irregularities concerning the elections to membership of the Executive Board at the Cumhuriyet Foundation.
On November 6, 2016, Günay was sent to prison pending trial on charges of “conducting activities on behalf of FETÖ/PDY without being a member” and “serving its objectives” via his social media messages and headlines and articles published in Cumhuriyet. He faces up to 15 years in prison.
On January 24, 2017, Turhan Günay was taken to the Mehmet Akif Ersoy Chest Heart and Vascular Surgery Teaching and Research Hospital for an angiography. As arteries going to his heart were blocked an angioplasty was also performed. Günay was sent back to the Silivri Prison No. 9 after the operation.
In May, Günay’s lawyers were notified that his individual application to the Turkish Constitutional Court challenging the legality of his incarceration was under examination and was communicated to the government for the latter to explain the grounds of the case.
Günay’s application to the European Court of Human Rights is also being considered as are the cases of over a dozen Turkish journalists. The Turkish government was called to give its response to the Strasbourg court by October 2, 2017.
The first hearing of the trial was held at the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court on July 24-18, 2017. The court ruled at the end of the first hearing on July 28 to release Günay and six other defendants pending the completion of the trial.
On December 25, 2017, the fifth hearing in the Cumhuriyet case was cut short when 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 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.
On January 11, 2018, the Constitutional Court rendered its judgment concerning Günay’s individual application, ruling that his pretrial detention violated his rights to personal liberty and security and freedom of expression and freedom of the press.
At the end of the March 9 hearing, Cumhuriyet reporter Ahmet Şık and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu were released 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 Günay, who spent 272 days behind bars as part of the case, and the newspaper’s accountants Günseli Özaltay and Bülent Yener are acquitted of the “aiding an armed organization without being its member” charge, while seeking conviction for 13 of their co-defendants on the same charge.
The court announced its verdict at the final hearing on held on April 24-25, 2018, convicting 14 Cumhuriyet columnists and executives of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and ordering the acquittal of Günay, along with Özaltay and Yener, of all charges.
On 18 February 2019, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, an appellate court, upheld the trial court’s verdict in the Cumhuriyet case.