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.

Retrial of 8 journalists whose convictions were overturned gets underway

Retrial of 8 journalists whose convictions were overturned gets underway

Trial court decides to comply with the Supreme Court of Appeals judgment concerning eight defendants in the case publicly known as the “FETÖ media trial”, next hearing set for March 2021




Journalists Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin, Yetkin Yıldız and musician Atilla Taş, who was a newspaper columnist between 2015 and 2016, appeared before court on 4 November 202 for their retrial, ordered by the Supreme Court of Appeals. Reviewing the case file in March, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals overturned the convictions of eight of the 25 journalists in the case publicly known as the "FETÖ media trial,” where 26 defendants faced “terrorism” charges over alleged links to the religious Fethullah Gülen movement, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government.


P24 monitored the hearing, where all eight defendants were in attendance.


The presiding judge read the Supreme Court of Appeals judgment and asked the defendants and their lawyers their statements about whether to comply with the order of reversal. The defendants and their lawyers asked the court to comply with the reversal order. The prosecutor also requested the court to comply with the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals. After the court decided to abide by the reversal order, the defendants addressed the court for their statements in response to the accusations.


“A journalistic reflex”


Responding to the accusation that he published reports about tweets by “Fuat Avni" (a whistleblower Twitter account allegedly linked with the Gulenist group) on his news portal, Ünal Tanık said: “Numerous media outlets reported on Fuat Avni’s tweets. Some of them faced no action, while some others were acquitted by your panel.” Stating that the coverage was merely journalism, Tanık demanded to be acquitted.


Following Tanık, Ahmet Memiş addressed the court: "All newspapers, news portals and TV channels reported on Fuat Avni’s tweets at that time. Even TV shows were making  references to Fuat Avni. We covered the tweets as a journalistic reflex. Back then, everyone was sharing Fuat Avni’s tweets. If this is not a crime, I should be acquitted too. If it's a crime, anyone who shared those tweets should stand trial. I only acted as a journalist. Journalism is not a crime.”


Yetkin Yıldız denied the accusation against him and stated that he was only doing his job:


“I earned my bread from journalism. I have no ties with any organization or congregation. Fuat Avni has tweeted over 100,000 posts. If we were making propaganda, we would have reported on all 100,000 of their tweets, not just 400. Yeni Şafak, Sözcü and Hürriyet newspapers were not prosecuted for their Fuat Avni coverage. BirGün, T24 and Diken media outlets were indicted but eventually acquitted. This is a judicial double standard.”


Yıldız's lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu also addressed the court. Asserting in her statement that there was no evidence proving that the defendants in the case had acted together, Çalıkuşu told the court that the trial led to heavy suffering for the defendants and asked the court to acquit her client and lift the judicial control measures imposed on Yıldız.


Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu and Yakup Çetin also told the court that they are being accused for their journalistic activity and demanded to be acquitted.


Following Kalyoncu and Çetin, Ali Akkuş addressed the court. Explaining that he has never even followed Fuat Avni on Twitter, Akkuş said: “Had I been someone with authority in the Zaman newspaper, I would have played an effective role in the newspaper founded after a trustee was appointed to Zaman. But I didn’t even work there.”


Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu stated that his lawyers were not present in the courtroom and demanded to make his defense statement in the presence of his lawyers.


Attila Taş was the last defendant to address the court. Regarding the accusations in the Supreme Court of Appeals’ reversal decision, Taş said: “I was charged with ‘insulting the president’ once and acquitted.” Referring to their release and rearrest as part of the original trial in 2017, Taş added: “How can I trust the judiciary when the court panel who rules for our release gets dismissed and replaced with another panel for releasing us? I ask your court to render such a verdict that will make us say, ‘There are real judges,’” Taş said, and demanded his acquittal.


Taş's lawyer Sevgi Kalan asked the court to lift the  judicial control measures against her client and requested additional time to prepare a detailed defense statement.


Judicial control measures not lifted


Announcing its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the continuatiın of the monthly signature obligation imposed on the defendants on the grounds that it was a “proportionate” judicial control measure. The court rejected Taş’s request for his international travel ban to be lifted "due to the ongoing paperwork concerning the defendant in the file.” The next hearing will be held on 31 March 2021.


Background of the case


Twenty-three of the 26 defendants in the case were convicted of “membership of a terrorist organization” at the final hearing of the trial on 8 March 2018. Two journalists, Murat Aksoy and Atilla Taş, were convicted of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” while one defendant was acquitted.


Completing its review of the case in March 2020, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s judgment concerning 17 of the journalists and overturned the convictions of eight defendants.


Concerning Memiş, Kalyoncu, Çulhaoğlu, Tanık, Çetin and Yıldız, the Supreme Court held that there had been an error in the classification of the offense and that the six journalists should have been charged with “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” on the grounds of lack of diversity, continuity, and density in organizational activities, indicating that the defendants’ actions were not sufficient to prove their membership of a terrorist organization.


The Supreme Court also overturned the conviction of Ali Akkuş, saying that “the defendant could not have known at the time of his employment with [the media outlet affiliated with the Gülenist] movement that it would turn out to be an armed terrorist organization.” As for Atilla Taş, who was convicted of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member,” the Supreme Court ruled that he should have been charged with “insulting the president” and “publicly degrading the institutions and organs of the state.”