Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, the chairman of Ulusal Parti (National Party) and chief columnist for Türk Solu magazine, was taken into custody on 31 August 2016 based on an arrest warrant issued as part of an investigation against the “media structure of the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY).”
Çulhaoğlu was among 35 journalists and academics who faced arrest warrants as part of the investigation. Upon finding out about the investigation, Çulhaoğlu reported to the Istanbul Courthouse, where he was arrested upon an order by the prosecutor. Çulhaoğlu and 11 others arrested made their statements to the prosecutor on 2 September 2016. Eight of the suspects, including Çulhaoğlu, were referred to court, which ruled to jail Çulhaoğlu, Murat Aksoy, Atilla Taş and Mutlu Çölgeçen on the allegation of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The indictment against Çulhaoğlu and 28 others, the majority of whom were journalists, sought prison sentences of up to 15 years for each suspect on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization.” Çulhaoğlu's social media posts and excerpts from several of his books and columns were held as evidence against him in the indictment, which claimed that "Çulhaoğlu manipulated public opinion on behalf of the organization and thus is a member of the organization.”
The first hearing of the trial was held on 27-31 March 2017 at the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court. On the last day of the hearing, the prosecutor asked the court to release 13 defendants including Çulhaoğlu. The court ordered the release of 21 of the 26 defendants.
Rearrest on "coup" charge
However, before Çulhaoğlu and his co-defendants were released from prison, news arrived that a separate investigation on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the government and the constitutional order” had been launched against the 13 defendants. Thus Çulhaoğlu and his 12 co-defendants were arrested before the could leave the prison premises.
Following a two-week period of detention at the Istanbul Police Department, on 14 April 2017, Çulhaoğlu and 11 others were jailed pending trial on "coup" charges.
The first hearing of the "coup" case, where Çulhaoğlu and his co-defendants faced two aggravated life sentences, was held on 16-17 August 2017. The panel ruled to merge the new indictment with the ongoing trial.
During the hearing on 6 February 2018, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, asking the court to drop the "coup" charge against Çulhaoğlu and 12 others but sought convictions for Çulhaoğlu, Murat Aksoy and Atila Taş on the charge of "aiding a terrorist organization without being its member."
At the March 7-8 hearing, which was the final hearing of the trial, the court convicted 25 defendants, including Çulhaoğlu, of terroism-related charges. Çulhaoğlu and 10 of his co-defendants were sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” The court ordered the continuation of Çulhaoğlu's detention.
Appellate court upholds sentence
On 22 October 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeals agianst the convictions. The court rendered the ruling without a public hearing. The appellate court also ruled for the continuation of detention of all imprisoned defendants.
Supreme Court overturns conviction
In March 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of eight journalists in the case, including Çulhaoğlu. In its unanimous judgment, the Supreme Court held that there had been an "error in the classification of the offense" and that six of the journalists, including Çulhaoğlu, should have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.”
The Supreme Court’s judgment became official on 8 June 2020, when it was finally uploaded on the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP).
Release and retrial
On 15 June 2020, Çulhaoğlu and five other journalists whose convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals were released from the Silivri Prison upon a decision of the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which set 4 November 2020 as the date for their retrial.
Çulhaoğlu and his co-defendants Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Atilla Taş, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin and Yetkin Yıldız appeared before the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 4 November 2020 for their retrial. The court decided to comply with the Supreme Court of Appeals' reversal judgment. The next hearing will be held on 31 March 2021.