Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.
Güray Öz, who is the news ombudsman and a columnist for Cumhuriyet, is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Cumhuriyet Foundation.
Öz was taken into custody on 31 October 2016 in Ankara as part of an investigation targeting Cumhuriyet executives and columnists. He was later flown to Istanbul, where the probe was being conducted. The Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, in a statement issued after the arrests, said that the Cumhuriyet Foundation executives were being investigated “for supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)/Kurdish Communities Union (KCK) and Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY)” and in connection with allegations that the newspaper had published "reports legitimizing the July 15 coup attempt." The statement said those arrested were accused of “committing crimes on behalf of PKK/KCK and FETÖ/PDY without being member.”
On 5 November 2016, Öz and eight other Cumhuriyet executives and staff members were jailed pending trial by the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace.
The indictment, which was prepared much later in the process, seeks between 8.5 to 22 years for Öz on charges of "aiding a terrorist organization without being a member" and "abuse of trust."
The prosecution claims Öz had phone conversations with a person who allegedly used ByLock, an encrypted messaging application allegedly used exclusively by the members of the Fethullah Gülen network, and with another person who was being investigated on suspicion of having links to what the authorities call the “FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization.” The prosecutor also maintains Öz consistently “failed to relay the negative reactions and disturbances expressed by the newspaper’s readers about Cumhuriyet’s new editorial policy to the management.” The prosecution claimed that Öz “acted together with the other suspects who came to the helm of the Cumhuriyet Foundation in 2013 and made a radical change to the newspaper’s editorial policy.”
Additionally, the indictment seeks between 1 to 7 years for Öz regarding a loan given to a company by the foundation, accusing him of “abusing trust in office.”
The indictment against Cumhuriyet journalists and executives (in Turkish) can be accessed here
The first hearing in the trial of Cumhuriyet employees and executives was held on 24-28 April 2017 at the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Öz made his statement on the second day of the week, saying: “The fact that the prosecutors are talking about a change in editorial policy is concrete proof that the subject of this trial are news reports, articles and writings -- or, in other words, journalism. This is exactly why the prosecutors are only talking about news stories, articles and front-page headlines.” Öz stated that a person with whom he’s said to have communicated with in the indictment is the owner of a fastfood restaurant in Çankaya, Ankara. He said it was impossible for him to know that the owner of the restaurant from where he occasionally orders food was being investigated for any reason.
At the end of the hearing, the court ruled to release seven defendants, including Öz, under an international travel ban.
The final hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial was held on 24-25 April 2018. Fourteen Cumhuriyet columnists and executives, including Öz, were handed down prison sentences for "aiding a terrorist organization without being its member." Öz was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison. The court acquitted all defendants of the "abuse of authority" charge.
Regional court finalizes sentence
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, saying it did not find "any substantial or procedural violations" in the ruling or any "shortcomings in the evidence or proceedings." The judgment finalized the sentences of eight defendants in the case, including Güray Öz, since prison terms under five years cannot be appealed further once they are upheld by an appellate court.
On 25 April 2019, Öz and five of his co-defendants were sent back to prison to serve the remainder of the sentences they were given in the Cumhuriyet trial.
Supreme Court of Appeals judgment and release
On 16 July 2019, the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals requested the reversal of the convictions against Orhan Erinç, Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Hikmet Çetinkaya, Aydın Engin and Ahmet Şık and the acquittal of all defendants except Şık. The Office of the General Prosecutor also said in their judicial opinion that the acquittal decision should apply to all other defendants in the case who were sentenced to less than five years in prison, except Emre İper.
On 12 September 2019, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions rendered in the Cumhuriyet trial. The Chamber also ruled for a stay of execution concerning Güray Öz, Önder Çelik, Bülent Utku, Musa Kart, Hakan Kara and Mustafa Kemal Güngör, who returned to prison in April 2019 to serve the remainder of their sentences. The Chamber ruled for the five imprisoned defendants to be released so as to prevent what might in the future entail a rights violation. The Chamber ruled to impose travel bans on Öz, Çelik, Kart, Kara, Güngör and Utku.
In accordance with the judgment, Öz, Çelik, Kart, Kara and Güngör were released from the Kandıra F Type Prison in the Kocaeli province late at night on 12 September 2019.
Güray Öz and 12 other former columnists and executives of Cumhuriyet daily appeared once again before the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 21 November 2019 for their retrial, ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
In its unanimous ruling, the court acquitted Kadri Gürsel but ruled against the Supreme Court of Appeals concerning the rest of the defendants, including Öz. The court once again convicted all 12 of "aiding a terrorist organization without being its member."
European Court of Human Rights application
Lawyers of Murat Sabuncu, Önder Çelik, Turhan Günay, Akın Atalay, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Kadri Gürsel, Hakan Kara, Musa Kart, Güray Öz and Bülent Utku lodged an application with the European Court of Human Rights on 2 March 2017, more than three months after filing an application with Turkey’s Constitutional Court. The European Court notified the lawyers in April 2017 that although their application was not given formal priority treatment under Rules of Court, it would be discussed "as soon as possible."
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled on 10 November 2020 that the pre-trial detention of former Cumhuriyet journalists and executives as part of the “Cumhuriyet trial” violated their right to liberty and security and freedom of expression.
The Second Section of the Court held unanimously that Articles 5/1 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) had been violated. The Court ruled unanimously that there had been “no violation” of Article 5/4 (right to speedy review of the lawfulness of detention), saying periods of seven to 16 months were “justified by the exceptional caseload of the Constitutional Court following the declaration of the state of emergency.”
The Court ruled by a majority that there had been “no violation” of Article 18 (limitation on use of restrictions on rights), saying “existence of an ulterior purpose was not demonstrated.” The Court ordered that Turkey pay 16,000 euros to each of the applicants in non-pecuniary damages.
The full text of the Sabuncu and Others v. Turkey judgment can be accessed here.