The indictment, issued in 2017, charged 10 local journalists from various media outlets with “membership in a terrorist organization” over alleged ties with “FETÖ”
YASİN KOBULAN, ANTALYA
The 10th and final hearing of the “Antalya “FETÖ media trial” was held on 21 September 2021 at the Antalya 2nd High Criminal Court. Issuing its judgment, the court sentenced five of the journalists on trial to a total of 25 years and 7 months in prison on “terror” charges.
P24 monitored the hearing. Journalists Özkan Mayda, Cihat Ünal, Ömer Özdemir, Olgun Matur and Onur Fazıl Soydal and defense lawyers were in attendance. Representatives from the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) were among spectators in the courtroom.
The prosecutor reiterated their final opinion, first submitted to the court in January 2021, demanding that the court sentence Bizim Antalya newspaper Editor-in-Chief Olgun Matur, Cihan News Agency former staffers Özkan Mayda and Ömer Özdemir, former Zaman newspaper staffer Osman Yakut, former Cihan and Zaman reporters Cihat Ünal and Kenan Baş and former Zaman copy editor Serhat Şeftali for “membership in a terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), and Antalya newspaper owner Sıtkı Soydal for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” under TCK 220/7. The prosecutor requested the acquittals of eight defendants, including Antalya newspaper owner Onur Fazıl Soydal. The prosecutor also demanded that the sentences to be given to seven defendants on TCK 314/2 charge be increased by 1/2 under Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Law (TMK).
In the indictment, issued in March 2017 against 22 defendants, 10 of whom were journalists, the prosecutor’s office alleged that the former staffers ıf the shuttered media outlets Bizimantalya.com, Antalya newspaper, the Cihan news agency and Zaman newspaper made up the “Antalya media leg of the Fethullahist terrorist organization” and published reports “in support of the organization.”
The defendants and their lawyers addressed the court for their final statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion.
Kenan Baş’s lawyer Gözde Baş addressed the court first. Arguing that her client was on trial only because he is a journalist, Baş demanded her client’s acquittal.
Özkan Mayda told the court in his statement that he was “probably the only sports journalist in the world to stand trial” for his work. Explaining that he worked in media outlets owned by Feza Gazetecilik Inc., particularly covering the local football team Antalyaspor, Mayda noted that many of his former co-workers were currently employed as commentators or in directorial positions in various different networks. Mayda requested to be acquitted.
Cihat Ünal addressed the court next. Explaining that he was a journalist with a 15-year career, Ünal added that he has received multiple awards for his work. Ünal said: “I worked as a reporter in Antalya and as a cameraman in Istanbul. I never worked in the distribution department of Zaman newspaper. I did not move to Istanbul for organizational purposes. My wife was working in Istanbul, at the İhlas News Agency. I requested to be transferred to Istanbul for this reason. My company sent me to Istanbul as a camera operator for Cihan News Agency. My phone calls are also held as evidence against me, but as a reporter, I contact so many news sources. This is something all journalists do. I request to be acquitted.”
Ömer Özdemir told the court that he reiterated his previous statement to the court concerning the ByLock allegation against him in the indictment. ByLock is an encrypted mobile messaging app purported to be used exclusively by the members of the Gülen movement. Noting that he started his journalism career in 2012, Özdemir explained that he quit his job one year later because he had been drafted for compulsory military service. “And afterwards I never had any connections with any institution affiliated with the Gülen movement,” Özdemir said, requesting to be acquitted.
Lawyer Münip Ermiş, who represents Özkan Mayda, Ömer Özdemir and Cihat Ünal, told the court that the indictment for this trial was rushed. Asserting that there was no trial launched against the former top level executives of Zaman newspaper, Ermiş demanded the acquittal of his clients.
Serhat Şeftali’s lawyer Halil Istıl also asserted that his client had no ties with FETÖ and demanded his acquittal.
“This is a political trial”
Olgun Matur addressed the court next, rejecting the allegations against him in the prosecutor’s final opinion. Matur argued that the prosecutor was seeking conviction for him because of four articles he wrote following the 15 July 2016 coup attempt, particularly the one about women who were arrested in Manisa following the failed coup. “Following my articles, the relevant institutions issued a statement and apologized. The Antalya newspaper had about 50 employees and none of them stood trial. This is a politically motivated trial,” Matur said, requesting to be acquitted.
The presiding judge asked Matur if the acts attributed to him in the indictment would constitute the crime of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Matur said there was no concrete evidence in the file to support the “aiding and abetting a terrorist organization” charge.
Recalling the Supreme Court of Appeals judgment that reversed the sentence given in 2018 to Ahmet Altan, Matur’s lawyer Rıdvan Yılmaz said the court should apply the Supreme Court of Appeals’ Ahmet Altan judgment in this case: “The articles and reports written by my client are within the scope of freedom of expression. There is nothing to support the ‘membership in a terrorist organization’ charge. I request my client’s acquittal,” the lawyer said.
Following a five-minute recess after hearing the statements of all defendants and their lawyers, the court issued its judgment. Cihat Ünal and Ömer Özdemir were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization”; Serhat Şeftali was sentenced to 6 years and 10 months on the same charge. Olgun Matur and Osman Yakut were sentenced to 3 years, 1 month and 15 days for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” Kenan Baş, Ali Orhan, Hasan Yavaşlar, Özkan Mayda and Onur Fazıl Soydal were acquitted of all charges.
The case was launched in 2017, about a year after nine of the journalists accused in the indictment were arrested as part of a 23 July 2016 operation targeting local businesses in Antalya, including media outlets, on alleged ties with the Gülen network. Before being released pending trial by the court, the journalists on trial remained behind bars for periods varying between 9 months and 1.5 years as part of the case.
In 2018, Tuncer Çetinkaya, Zaman newspaper’s former regional representative in Antalya, who was among the defendants in the initial indictment, was sentenced to 7.5 years in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization” after the court separated the file against him.
Two of the journalists on trial, Cihat Ünal and Kenan Baş, filed individual applications with the Constitutional Court in 2016 and 2017, respectively, claiming that their unlawful detention violated their right to liberty and security and their press freedom and freedom of expression. The top court issued its judgments in Ünal and Baş’s applications in November 2018, rejecting all claims in both applications.