Cemil Uğur, a reporter for the Mezopotamya news agency (MA), was arrested in a police raid on his home in the eastern Van province on 6 October 2020. Uğur was one of the journalists who reported on allegations that two locals were tortured and thrown out of a chopper by soldiers in Van.
During the raid, anti-terror police confiscated Uğur’s notebooks and digital equipment. Uğur was held in custody for three days. He was accused of “reporting on social incidents to antagonize the state.” During his interrogation on 9 October, Uğur was asked about his phone calls with his sources and whether “he took instructions to write news reports.”
The Van 2nd Criminal Judgeship of Peace issued a gag order on the torture allegations in Van on 13 September 2020. Uğur was asked why he reported on the allegations despite the gag order. Uğur stated they weren’t notified about the restriction. During the police interrogation, it was revealed that Uğur's mobile phone was tapped on 31 March 2020 as part of the investigation carried out by the Van Chief Public Prosecutor's Office. Uğur was read the tapes of the interviews he made with his sources and was asked about "the purpose of his reporting.”
The prosecutor who took Uğur’s statement on 9 October referred the journalist to the Van 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace, seeking his imprisonment pending trial. The judgeship jailed Uğur on the grounds that he “reported on social incidents to antagonize the state.” The judgeship wrote in their ruling that Uğur was “not a journalist because he does not hold a press card issued by the Directorate of Communications.”
Uğur was sent to the Van High-Security Closed Prison.
On 11 February 2021, the Van Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office issued an indictment against Uğur and four other journalists -- MA reporters Adnan Bilen and Zeynep Durgut, JinNews reporter Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala. The 14-page indictment charged the journalists with “membership in a terrorist organization” under TCK 314/2, citing their reports and conversations with their sources. The indictment also alleged that the news agencies and newspapers for which the journalists worked published “provocative content against the state.” The Van 5th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment.
The first hearing of the trial was held on 2 April 2020. At the end of the hearing, the court ruled to release Uğur, Bilen, Abi and Sala pending trial under judicial control measures, which include a monthly signature obligation and an international travel ban.
The second hearing of the trial was held on 2 July 2021. In an interim ruling, the court reduced the signature obligation imposed on Zeynep Durgut to once a month and ordered the continuation of the judicial control measures and the international travel ban imposed on her four co-defendants. The court adjourned the trial until 21 October 2021.
The third hearing of the case was held on 21 October 2021. Cemil Uğur, Zeynep Durgut, Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala submitted letters of excuse. The court initially did not allow spectators in the courtroom. Following objections, the court decided to let two journalists in the courtroom to follow the hearing. The court lifted the judicial control measures imposed on all five journalists but denied the return of their equipment. The court set 6 January 2022 as the date for the fourth hearing.
The fourth and final hearing of the trial was held on 6 January 2022. The prosecutor presented their final opinion, requesting acquittal for all five journalists on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” but demanding that Nazan Sala be sentenced for “terrorism propaganda” for her social media posts. At the end of the hearing, the court acquitted all five journalists of “membership in a terrorist organization” charge but sentenced Sala to 1 year and 3 months in prison for “terrorism propaganda” for social media posts allegedly shared by the journalist.