Murat Aksoy, a columnist for the shuttered Yeni Hayat daily and an advisor for the main opposition party CHP, was arrested on September 1, 2016. On September 2, he was jailed pending trial on charges of “knowingly aiding the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization.”
An indictment against Aksoy and 28 other defendants, most of whom are journalists from media outlets affiliated with Fethullah Gülen’s banned movement, seeks up to 15 years in jail for each suspect.
On March 31, at the end of a five-day hearing, the prosecutor requested the release of Aksoy and 12 other co-defendants. The Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court, which oversaw the trial, ordered the release of Aksoy and the 12 others, as well as eight more defendants. But none of the 21 defendants was freed: Eight of them were rearrested when the prosecutor’s objection to the court decision was upheld and the remaining 13, including Aksoy, were taken into police custody as part of a new investigation, this time on more serious charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government.” Aksoy and 11 other defendants were sent back to prison pending trial again after spending two weeks in police custody, while one of the defendants, former Zaman editor Ali Akkuş, was released pending trial.
Second hearing of the terrorism case against Aksoy was held on April 27, 2017 with a new panel of judges and a prosecutor as the former judges and the prosecutor of the case were suspended from duty following the release decision at the end of the March hearing. Only a small number of journalists were allowed to attend the second hearing of the trial.
The third hearing of the case was held on July 6, 2017. The panel of judges, renewed for the third time since the start of the trial, decided to keep all imprisoned defendants in jail. Aksoy, who is not in detention as part of this trial, did not speak at the session.
His trial in the “coup” case, along with 12 other co-defendants, began on August 16, 2017. Aksoy and the 11 other imprisoned defendants were ordered to remain behind bars at the end of the two-day hearing on August 16-17.
The coup case was later merged with the “terrorism” case. At the end of the first hearing of the merged case, held on October 24, 2017, the court ruled for the release of Aksoy, along with co-defendant Atilla Taş, pending trial.
The following hearing was held on December 3-4, 2017, when the court ruled to release all defendants behind bars.
At the seventh hearing in the case on February 6, 2018, the prosecutor presented his final opinion on the case, outlining the finalized charges against the defendants. The prosecutor requested that the “coup” charges against 13 defendants, including Aksoy, be dropped. He also requested that all defendants, except Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık, be convicted of “FETÖ/PDY membership,” while requesting that Aksoy, Çulhaoğlu and Tanık be sentenced for the lesser charge of “knowingly and intentionally aiding the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization without being a part of its hierarchical structure.”
The court adjourned the trial until February 22-23, 2018, when the defendants and their lawyers presented their final defense statements. The trial was adjourned once again until March 7-8 as the defense statements were not completed at the end of the two-day hearing.
Aksoy presented his final defense statement to the court on the first day of the final hearing in the case, on March 7, 2018. Noting that he had promoted a more democratic and freer Turkey in his writings prior to his prosecution, Aksoy said he had not received instructions from anyone.
The full text of Aksoy’s final defense statement (in Turkish) can be reached here.
On March 8, 2018, the court announced its verdict in the case, sentencing all but one of the 26 defendants to prison terms on “terrorism charges.” The court acquitted Muhterem Tanık while convicting Aksoy and Atilla Taş of “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization while not being part of its hierarchical structure.”
The remaining defendants were given up to 7 years and 6 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.”
Aksoy was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month in prison, while Taş was given a sentence of 3 years 1 month and 15 days, but both will remain free pending the appeal process. The court, however, ruled to maintain their travel ban.
On 22 October 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, an appellate court, upheld the sentences, thus making the trial court’s verdict final as regards Aksoy and Taş, since prison sentences less than five years cannot be appealed further once they are upheld by an appellate court.
On 13 November 2018, Aksoy received a notice ordering that he report to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in 10 days for the execution of the prison sentence. On 20 November, Aksoy announced on his social media account that he was to be sent to prison on 22 November as per the appellate court verdict.
Aksoy reported to the Istanbul Courthouse on 22 November to serve the remaining part of the 25-month sentence. He was arrested and sent to the Metris Prison in Istanbul.
He will remain behind bars until the approval of his probation.
On 4 January 2019, Aksoy was released on probation.
Constitutional Court application
On 26 April 2019, the Constitutional Court announced that its Plenary would take up Aksoy’s application, along with those filed on behalf of nine other journalists and press members, on 2 May 2019.
At the end of the first day of deliberations, the top court ruled that Murat Aksoy’s pre-trial detention violated his right to personal liberty and security. The court rendered the decision through a majority vote.