Expression Interrupted

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.

Oğuz Usluer

Oğuz Usluer

Oğuz Usluer, former news coordinator of Habertürk TV, had worked as a news manager and coordinator at various TV stations such as Kanal D, Show TV, Kanaltürk and Atv before. Usluer was detained in Istanbul on 11 December 2016 as part of an investigation into the so-called “FETÖ media structure.” After spending more than two weeks in custody, Usluer was brought to courthouse on 28 December 2016. Referred to the court with a request for imprisonment after a questioning by the prosecutor’s office, Usluer was arrested on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization” on the same day. He was sent to Silivri Prison.

The indictment against Usluer was completed on 16 January 2017. The 196-page indictment called for a prison sentence of up to 15 years for 29 people each, including Usluer, 27 of whom are journalists, on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization” under Article 314/2 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK). (Journalist Said Sefa, whose file was later separated from the case, was additionally accused of “attempting to overthrow the government” under TCK Article 312.)

The indictment, which spared half a page on the allegations against Usluer, quoted two tweets shared by the anonymous Twitter account fuatavni, claiming it showed that Usluer was “embraced by fuatavni, the organisation’s black propaganda account.” In the indictment, it was also reminded that there were witness statements against Usluer  saying that “he was conducting perception operations in line with the aims of the organization” with other former Habertürk employees who also stood trial as defendants in the case while he was working for Habertürk, and it was stated that Usluer was a user of the encrypted messaging app ByLock.

The trial of Usluer and 28 other defendants began on 27 March 2017. At the end of the five-day trial, on 31 March 2017, the prosecutor requested the release of 13 people, including Usluer. In its interim ruling following a brief recess, the court panel ordered the release of eight more defendants, in addition to the 13 people whose release were requested by the prosecutor’s office. However, following the release decision, there were news and comments on social media accounts and media outlets close to the government, criticising the court’s decision. Later, the prosecutor filed an objection against the court’s decision to release the other eight defendants, upon which the appeal was accepted and the defendants in question were arrested again before they could leave the prison.

 

Coup allegations and the second indictment

Oğuz Usluer and 12 other journalists, whose release was requested by the prosecutor, were arrested again before they were even released in a new investigation launched at night on the same day. Of those 13, journalist Ali Akkuş was later released pending trial. After spending two weeks in custody, Usluer and 11 others appeared before the Istanbul 12th Criminal Judgeship of Peace, which jailed them pending trial on the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey.”

During this process, the judges of the 25th High Criminal Court, who ordered the release of a total of 21 defendants, and the prosecutor were temporarily suspended.

The second hearing in Usluer’s trial on the charge of “membership of a terrorist organization” was held on 27 April 2017. Apart from a number of journalists, audience was not allowed in the courtroom. The third hearing of the case was held at the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court on 6 July 2017. The court panel, which had changed for the third time throughout the trial, ruled for the continuation of the pre-trial detention of all jailed defendants, in line with the opinion of the prosecutor.

The first hearing of the trial in which Usluer and 12 other journalists were accused of  coup-related charges, facing two aggravated life sentences each, took place on 16-17 August 2017. At the end of the hearing, the court ruled for the continuation of the pre-trial detention of Usluer and other defendants, while it ordered the release of the shuttered Aksiyon magazine reporter Bünyamin Köseli and the now-defunct Bugün newspaper reporter Cihan Acar under judicial control measures. The court also decided to merge the “coup” case with the ongoing “FETÖ media trial,” in which the defendants stood trial on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.”

The first hearing after the cases were merged took place at the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court on 24 October 2017. At the end of this hearing, the court ordered the release of journalist Murat Aksoy and the shuttered Meydan newspaper columnist Atilla Taş.

There was no release decision at the hearing held on 3 and 4 December 2017, and the trial was adjourned until 6 February 2018. Presenting his opinion on the merits during the seventh hearing on 6 February, the prosecutor requested the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey” against Usluer and the other 12 defendants to be dropped, and asked the court to sentence all the defendants except Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Muhterem Tanık on the charge of “membership of the FETÖ/PDY organisation.” On the other hand, the prosecutor requested the court to sentence Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, and Muhterem Tanık on the charge of “knowingly and willingly aiding the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organisation without being a part of its hierarchical structure.” Granting additional time for the preparation of the final defense statements, the court adjourned the trial until 22 February.

At the next hearing held on 22 and 23 February, some of the defendants delivered their final defense statements against the prosecutor’s opinion on the merits.

The final hearing in the trial took place on 7 and 8 March 2018. Making his final defense statement at the final hearing, Usluer stated that there were inconsistencies in the ByLock reports against him and asked the court to determine that he did not use the app. Usluer pointed out that those who had once praised the Fethullah Gülen movement did not face any investigations and said, “Where they were deceived and fell, we drowned; we, who are the victims of that lie are now handcuffed.”

Announcing its verdict on 8 March, the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court sentenced Usluer to 7 years and 6 months in prison on the charge of “membership of an armed terrorist organization.” Usluer was acquitted of the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey” in the second indictment against him.

The Court of Cassation judgment

The 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, which reviewed the case upon an appeal application, ruled that there were “no violations with respect to either the procedural grounds or the merits” in the decision of the high court and upheld the conviction of Usluer on 22 October 2018. 

On 16 March 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation upheld the convictions of Usluer and 16 other journalists in the case. Thus, Oğuz Usluer’s 7-years-and-6-months sentence was finalized.

The full text of the Court of Cassation’s judgment (in Turkish) can be read here.

Oğuz Usluer is currently behind bars as a convict at İstanbul Silivri Prison.

Click here to read Oğuz Usluer’s answers to our questionnaire about prison conditions.

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