Orhan Kemal Cengiz, a human rights lawyer and former columnist for the shuttered Radikal, Today’s Zaman and Bugün dailies, was taken into custody at the Atatürk Airport in Istanbul on 21 July 2016, a few days after the failed coup of 15 July 2016.
Cengiz was arrested as part of an investigation against former columnists, executives and staff members of Zaman daily, which was closed down through a statutory decree on 27 July 2016. Cengiz officially became a lawyer for Zaman before its closure, during the time the government appointed a board of trustees to the daily.
After spending four days in police custody, Cengiz gave his statement to a prosecutor at the courthouse and was subsequently released under a travel ban.
During the interrogation, Cengiz was asked about a couple of his social media posts from two years ago.
The indictment against Cengiz and 29 others was issued in April 2017. All defendants faced three aggravated life imprisonment sentences on "coup" charges and an additional prison term of up to 15 years for “membership in a terrorist organization."
The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul held the first hearing of the trial over two days, on 18-19 September 2017.
Cengiz addressed the court for his defense statement during the second hearing, held on 8 December 2017. Cengiz told the court: “We have been trying to understand why I am here [among the defendants] for the last two hearings as the indictment doesn’t explain that. My name is mentioned among columnists in the indictment, but there isn’t a single article I wrote among the grounds for the accusations. When I was detained, I learned through the file number that I had been taken into custody as part of the Zaman investigation, which I had taken to the Constitutional Court."
Prosecutor's final opinion
During the third hearing on 5 April 2018, the prosecutor presented his final opinion, asking the court to sentence Cengiz and eight of his co-defendants to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order,” pursuant to Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), and to an additional prison sentence of up to 15 years for “membership in an armed terrorist organization,” under Article 314/2.
The prosecutor argued that Cengiz “expressed his loyalty to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization in his articles” published in Bugün newspaper: “He has fulfilled the duties assigned to him within the organization by particularly praising the so-called corruption probes concocted by those members of the police force and judiciary who were loyal to the organization. All these show without any doubt that the defendant has committed the offense of membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
On 24 April 2018, the prosecutor amended the charges against four defendants in the case, including Cengiz. In his additional opinion, the prosecutor dropped the "coup" charge agianst Cengiz, instead seeking up to 13 years in prison for “systematically disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
During the fourth hearing, held on 10-11 May 2018, Cengiz responded to the accusation in the prosecutor's final opinion. Cengiz said he was on trial not for his columns but for being the lawyer who brought the Zaman trial before the Constitutional Court. He demanded his acquittal.
At the end of the final hearing, held on 5-6 July 2018, the court acquitted Cengiz and four others of all charges while convicting six of their co-defendants.
Acquittal upheld by Supreme Court of Appeals
On 24 September 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the acquittals of Orhan Kemal Cengiz, Nuriye Ural, Lale Sarıibrahimoğlu and İhsan Dağı in the Zaman trial. The judgment became official two months later, when it was uploaded on UYAP (national judiciary informatics system) in December 2020.