Ahmet Şık, an investigative journalist for Cumhuriyet daily, was taken into custody in late December 2016 and was sent to prison by a court days later. The court decision to imprison him pending trial said that Şık had made statements that constitute propaganda both for FETÖ/PDY and the PKK armed terrorist organizations, despite the apparent contradiction stemming from the fact that they are dissimilar groups. The criminal investigation against Şık was then merged with another one conducted against Cumhuriyet journalists and executives. Prosecutor of the case argued that Şık had attempted to “legitimize” the PKK and the far-left DHKP/C with his interviews with persons from these two groups. Şık is formally charged with “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member.” Click here to read the full indictment against the Cumhuriyet journalists and executives (in Turkish).
Şık and the other Cumhuriyet journalists and executives appeared for the first time in trial at the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court on 24 July 2017.
Şık, who presented his defense statement on day three, said: “You must have understood from what I’ve told you so far that this is not a defense statement or testimony. Rather, this is an accusation." He said: “The Turkish judiciary is today exactly what happens when you subtract rights, justice, conscience and merit from the the law. Our experience has shown clearly that calls for justice, rights, implementing the law and being human are inaudible to you. As such, I ask nothing of the court.”
At the end of the first week of sessions, on 28 July, the Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court announced its interim ruling, deciding for the release of seven Cumhuriyet employees and for keeping Şık and four others in prison.
The court also stated that some elements in Şık’s defense statement could “constitute a crime” and decided to file a criminal complaint with the Istanbul Prosecutor’s Office.
The next hearing in the trial took place on September 11, 2017, at a courtroom inside the Silivri prison compound. The court ordered continuation of detention for all defendants at the end of the hearing. A detailed report on the hearing can be found here.
The third hearing in the trial was held on 25 September 2017, this time in the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan, central Istanbul. Three witnesses were heard at the hearing and the court ordered the release of columnist Kadri Gürsel, while ordering the continuation of the detention of Şık and others.
Şık remained behind bars at the end of the fourth hearing of the case, held on 31 October 2017 as well. On 25 December 2017, at the fifth hearing, Şık began to read a lengthy defense statement but was stopped after a few minutes by the presiding judge, who said the statement was "political" and would not be allowed. Şık was then expelled from the courtroom when he attempted to continue reading his statement for "disrupting the proceedings" under articles 203 and 204 of the Turkish Criminal Procedural Code (CMK). Şık was not allowed back in for the rest of the day. "Depending on majoritarianism as opposed to pluralism, the current government treats and views every citizen who does not agree with them as terrorists," Şık said before he was interrupted. "There is a judicial system, under the control of the current government, that transforms all suspicions of terrorism into outrageous charges. There is the media which hides facts and consequently, are accomplices in ruining our common future. There is a silent majority which remains in a web of silence as everything happens in front of their eyes because they are scared for their well-being or afraid that their comfortable lives will be disrupted. Within this current situation, under a dictatorial regime which feeds off violence and is based on cruelty and oppression, naturally the only that thrives is evil." (The full text of the defense statement that Şık prepared for the December 25 hearing can be accessed here.)
Şık's expulsion from the courtroom prompted the defense lawyers to demand the recusal of the judges, saying they are no longer impartial. Presiding judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dağ then said that, under the law, the court can only deal with matters requiring urgent attention and should not continue with proceedings since a request for recusal of the judges has been made. He thus said that two more witnesses who were expected to testify during the hearing would not be heard. The court then issued an interim ruling, stating that the request for recusal of the judges will be referred to the Istanbul 28th High Criminal Court and that none of the imprisoned defendants will be released. The court adjourned the trial until 9 March.
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 after spending more than 400 days in pre-trial detention at the Silivri Prison in Istanbul. The court ordered the continuation of the detention of Akın Atalay, the chairman of the newspaper’s executive board, and it also set 16 March as the date for the next hearing.
Şık and Sabuncu were released from Silivri later that night.
During the seventh hearing on 16 March, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, requesting that 13 members of the Cumhuriyet staff, including Ahmet Şık, are convicted on charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member." The defendants presented their final defense statements at the final hearing of the case, held on April 24-25, in Silivri. On 25 April, the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted 14 Cumhuriyet journalists and executives, including reporter Ahmet Şık, of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Şık was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison. The court ruled to impose judicial control measures on all defendants in the case who were handed down prison sentences.
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.
Ahmet Şık, Akın Atalay, Aydın Engin, Hikmet Çetinkaya, Murat Sabuncu and Orhan Erinç can further appeal the verdict with the Supreme Court of Appeals since the prison terms they have been imposed are longer than five years.
Indicted twice based on single complaint
Another case was opened against Şık for his Twitter posts upon a 2015 complaint filed by an Anadolu news agency (AA) reporter. Şık is indicted in this case for “Degrading the Turkish nation, state of Turkish Republic, the organs and institutions of the state” as per Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code, facing up to 2 years imprisonment. In January 2018, an Istanbul prosecutor issued yet another indictment against Şık with the same charge. The accusation in the new indictment also stems from the same complaint as the ongoing case, overseen by Istanbul’s 17th Criminal Court of First Instance. The first indictment seeks up to 2 years in prison for Şık. When the trial court accepted the second indictment and merged the two cases, the sentence sought for Şık became 3.5 years in total. The prosecutor argued in the new indictment that there was both de facto and de jure relationship between the two indictments and therefore the offense was committed in a successive manner. Şık’s Twitter posts held as evidence against the journalist in this case were also among accusations against Şık as part of the Cumhuriyet trial.
The second hearing of this case was held on January 30, 2018. Ahmet Şık, who was in pretrial detention in the Silivri Prison at the time, did not attend due to health issues and was instead represented by his lawyer. The court adjourned the trial until 22 May.
Şık and his lawyer Can Atalay were in attendance at the third hearing of the case on 22 May. The court adjourned the trial until 18 September 2018, in line with Şık and his lawyer’s requests for additional time to prepare a defense statement.
On 18 September, the 17th Criminal Court of First Instance of Istanbul ruled for the case to be abated because Şık was elected an MP in Turkey’s 24 June 2018 parliamentary elections.
Constitutional Court application
On 26 April 2019, the Constitutional Court announced that its Plenary would take up Şık's individual application, along with those filed on behalf of nine other journalists, including his co-defendants in the Cumhuriyet trial, Murat Sabuncu, Akın Atalay, Kadri Gürsel and Önder Çelik, on 2 May 2019. At the end of the first day of deliberations, the court rejected the applications of Ahmet Şık, Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Önder Çelik and Bülent Utku, while it ruled that Kadri Gürsel's pre-trial detention violated his right to personal liberty and security. The court rendered all decisions through a majority vote.