In detention for 400 days
Eighteen of our newspaper’s columnists, reporters, lawyers, cartoonists and managers are being prosecuted as part of the investigation into Cumhuriyet launched in August 2016. In the trial featuring accusations about our paper’s editorial policy and in which our reports and articles serve as evidence, the charges filed are assisting FETO, the PKK/KCK and DHKP/C and making their propaganda. The fifth hearing of the trial will be held on 25-26 December. Our Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and Executive Board Chair Akın Atalay have been held in detention for 400 days, our reporter Ahmet Şık for 339 and our accounting employee Emre İper for 242.
Cumhuriyet has been targeted by the holders of power in every period. Especially during military coup periods, it has courted severe sanctions such as closure. Columnists, reporters and managers have been tried and sentenced. It has been targeted by those in power in all periods for engaging in journalism with the aim of protecting human rights and defending the indispensability of a secular, democratic and welfare state. The AKP could not be expected to be any different from its predecessors. In fact, since it came to power in 2002 it has followed the same path and there has been a wish to silence our newspaper with numerous investigations and trials. Three such critical periods have been experienced
The first was in the Ergenekon conspiracy that occurred while cooperation between the AKP and Fethullah Gülen was continuing. In the investigation launched under this name, with our newspaper’s chief columnist İlhan Selçuk being arrested and then released on age grounds, our Ankara representative at the time Mustafa Balbay and our columnist Erol Manisalı were placed in detention. Over the same process, many of our columnists and reporters, like Cüneyt Arcayürek, Orhan Bursalı, Mine Kırıkkanat and İlhan Taşçı were investigated for reports they made and trials were brought against them.
This was followed by the second period in which the AKP-Gülen partnership ended thanks to the 17-25 December probes. Following the probes, the wish once more was to make Cumhuriyet pay the price. For this reason, there were an increasing number of trials and investigations against our paper. Its duty to report the process from a journalistic perspective was punished with endless trials, unjust access blocks to our news and retraction orders.
As to the third period, this was ushered in by the 15 July coup attempt. Our newspaper’s entire complement of managers and its columnists and reporters were arrested and subsequently detained under an investigation launched just one month after the coup attempt. The number of trials, already large, brought against our columnists and reporters gradually increased.
The AKP rulership, following the ending of its partnership with the Fethullah Gülen crime organisation today branded “FETO” in the judiciary and politics, blamed the injustices in the previous period on its former partner, saying, “We were deceived.” The expectations for law and justice that this gave rise to were never realised. All circles that the political rulership perceived to be enemies, especially politicians, academics, journalists and lawyers, continued to be targeted by the judiciary. It was just the names of the prosecutors and judges that changed. The methods of the AKP-FETO cooperation period remained the same. Cumhuriyet, today just as in the past, is brought out to promote the adoption by society of democracy, basic rights and the principle of secularism and the unfettering of science from religion, and this comes at a price.
In the period in which the AKP ceased sharing power with “FETO”, 45 of our columnists, reporters and managers who are part of Cumhuriyet newspaper have been placed in the dock. They are being prosecuted in nearly one hundred penal cases for our reports and articles. The trials do not threaten freedoms alone and come with a further financial component in the attempt to silence our paper. In retraction suits brought through systematic complaints chiefly by AKP politicians and civil servants, fines totalling 3.7 million lira are sought against our newspaper. The payment by our paper of millions of lira in damages is sought in close to one hundred non-material damages suits in which members of the government feature prominently.
This judicial siege of Cumhuriyet is but one segment of the AKP’s duress against all the democrats it has in its sights and is a concrete example that shows the extent of the assault on critical journalism. On the four hundredth day of our colleagues’ detention, we present a list of the trials brought against Cumhuriyet.
ERDEM GÜL: He was detained after having had his statement taken in November 2015 by Deputy Chief Prosecutor at the time, İrfan Fidan, in connection with the intelligence agency trucks news published in June 2015. Our Ankara representative Gül was released after having spent three months in detention under a Constitutional Court ruling that freedom of expression and the press had been violated. Gül, whose imprisonment is sought in the indictment against him on the charges of aiding an organisation, obtaining and revealing the state’s information that requires to remain secret and attempting a coup, was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment in the trial in May 2016 on the count of revealing information that requires to remain secret. Having been acquitted on the count of attempting a coup, Gül continues to be tried on the charge of aiding an organisation.
CAN DÜNDAR: President Erdoğan targeted Dündar prior to the judicial authorities for the news about the ammunition in the intelligence agency trucks. Our former Editor-in-Chief Dündar, who was held in detention for three months along with Gül, was sentenced to five years and ten months’ imprisonment in the same trial on the count of revealing information that requires to remain secret. Prior to the intelligence agency trucks news, Dündar was also fined 28,600 lira in April 2016 for his reports and articles on the 17-25 December graft investigation summary of proceedings. Numbering among the parties in the trial were President Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan. Dündar is at the same time a defendant in a retraction case in which a fine of 1.5 million lira is sought.
OĞUZ GÜVEN: Güven, Editor-in-Chief of our newspaper’s website cumhuriyet.com.tr, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment for an announcement Tweet that remained online for 52 seconds about the death of Denizli Republic Chief Prosecutor Mustafa Alper. The announcement tweet taking the form, “A truck has mowed down Chief Prosecutor Mustafa Alper who drafted the first FETO indictment” was targeted by Sabah newspaper. In response to this, prosecutor Yasemin Baba launched an investigation into a report that she had never seen because it had been deleted and corrected. The targeted Tweet was not the sole charge in the indictment against Güven, who remained in detention for one month during the investigation. Güven’s punishment was also sought on the charge of publishing terrorist organisations’ announcements for posting interviews that journalists Ahmet Şık and Banu Güven conducted with Cemil Bayık at the time of solution process with the PKK. The court, in passing a prison sentence on Güven, cited these Tweets as compounding reasons for a custodial sentence. At the same time, a further two cases are outstanding against Güven for publishing terrorist organisations’ announcements and publicly inciting the people to hatred and enmity.
CÜNEYT ARCAYÜREK: While still alive, he was sued for defaming the President over his article entitled “Beat that for shamelessness.” Arcayürek’s name still appeared on the court docket five months after he passed away on 23 June 2015. The proceedings against Arcayürek abated in November 2015.
ÇİĞDEM TOKER: She is being sued for writing that Ömer Faruk Kavurmacı, son-in-law of Kadir Topbaş who was forced to stand down as Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor, is a partner of the company that bought an area totalling 8,000m2 that was opened up for development in Fatih. She was tried and acquitted on the charge of defamation resulting from a complaint by Topbaş over the relevant article entitled, “Son-in-law disaster on Vatan.” However, Topbaş has objected to this decision.
CANAN COŞKUN: Proceedings were brought against her in October 2015 with 23 years’ imprisonment sought on the charge that she defamed a public servant with her report entitled, “The sale of homes disputed in the judiciary.” She was fined 12,600 lira in January 2017 on this count. Coşkun was at the same time sentenced to ten months’ suspended imprisonment for her report, “The intelligence agency came out of the onions.” She is being prosecuted for defaming the President over her report on Dündar and Gül’s detention.
ABBAS YALÇIN: Yalçın, one of our paper’s lawyers who at one time was our responsible editor, stands accused in 28 cases involving prosecutions, inter alia, for defaming the President, publishing terrorist organisations’ announcements and making their propaganda, slander, defamation and retraction.
BÜLENT ÖZDOĞAN: Our newspaper’s Editor Özdoğan faces charges in eight retraction actions in which fines totalling 800,000 lira are sought. His imprisonment for up to three years was also sought on the charge of publishing terrorist organisations’ announcements.Özdoğan was acquitted on this count in February 2017.
ALİCAN ULUDAĞ, SİNAN TARTANOĞLU, OZAN CEPNİ, NECATİ SAVAŞ: As a result of the PKK’s attack staged with a bomb-laden vehicle on a bus stop in Ankara Kızılay on 13 March 2016, 35 citizens lost their lives. A trial was brought against our reporters who covered the incident, Uludağ, Tartanoğlu, Çepni and Savaş, following a tip-off made by the Presidential Communications Centre. The trial in which their imprisonment for four and a half years is sought continues.
UTKU ÇAKIRÖZER: Çakırözer, who was our paper’s former editor-in-chief and is now a CHP member of parliament, stands charged in 16 retraction proceedings and one defamation trial in which fines totalling 1.6 million lira are sought.
AYŞE YILDIRIM: Yıldırım, who is one of our former responsible editors, stands charged in 13 retraction actions and two defamation trials in which fines totalling 1.3 million lira are sought.
AYKUT KÜÇÜKKAYA: Küçükkaya, who is one of our former responsible editors, stood charged in 13 trials in which fines totalling 260,000 lira were imposed on the grounds that the name of Berkin Elvan, who lost his life when a gas canister fired by the police in the Gezi Park protests struck him in the head, was not shown as “B.E.” At the same time, Küçükkaya stands charged in four retraction and two defamation cases and one breach of confidentiality case and one over revealing the state’s information that requires to remain confidential in which fines totalling 400,000 lira are sought.
CEYDA KARAN: One of our paper’s columnists, Karan, was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment on the grounds that she included in her column by way of solidarity the cover of the special edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo issued following the murder of twelve of its cartoonists. Our columnist Hikmet Çetinkaya was also given the same sentence in the same trial.
KEMAL GÖKTAŞ: Proceedings have been initiated against our paper’s reporter Göktaş for reporting allegations of police negligence in the 10 October massacre in Ankara. Three years’ imprisonment is sought for Göktaş on the charge that he disclosed the identity of public servants engaged in counterterrorism duties.
YAVUZ YAKIŞKAN: Yakışkan, who works in our paper’s transport service, was arrested immediately following the completion of the Cumhuriyet indictment in April. The allegation was raised against Yakışkan, who was held under arrest for fourteen days at the instruction of Yasemin Baba, one of the prosecutors who drafted the indictment, that there had been very frequent telephone calls between the phone line his son used and the phone line of a person named M.Y. who was a ByLock user. It emerged from an investigation made by Yakışkan’s lawyers that, contrary to what had been supposed, M.Y. was not a suspected person and was Yakışkan’s son’s friend. Neither a decision to drop the charges nor an indictment have been issued with reference to Yakışkan, who was freed as a result of this investigation.
ŞENOL BURAN: Our paper’s canteen operator Şenol Buran was arrested on the charge of defaming the President on 24 December 2016 in a raid involving an armoured police vehicle on his home. His imprisonment for four years is sought in the ongoing trial in which he was released on 2 January 2017.
ARİF KIZILYALIN: The Minister of Environment and Urbanisation at the time, İdris Güllüce, complained about his report, “VIP pool from minister for his wife.” His imprisonment for four years is sought on slander charges.
IŞIL ÖZGENTÜRK: She was charged because pro-regime scribe Hilal Kaplan complained about her article entitled, “The porno states of my country” as did President Erdoğan about the article entitled, “The South-East for the very polite and very sensitive.” Her imprisonment for a total of seven years is sought.
SELDA GÜNEYSU: Proceedings have been brought against her for her article entitled “Tiny ballerinas’ corruption.” Her imprisonment for four years is sought.
DAMLA YUR: A trial has been brought against our paper’s former reporter Yur over her 1 June 2015 report “Pamukova cowed into silence” concerning Y.İ., brother of Ali İnci who at that time was a prospective AKP member of parliament for Sakarya, being the suspect in a sexual harassment investigation. Yur’s imprisonment for three years is sought for breaching the confidentiality of the investigation.
ATAOL BEHRAMOĞLU: His imprisonment for up to four years and eight months was sought in a prosecution for defamation of the President in which his report headed, “Call out from the Middle Ages” was cited as grounds. He was acquitted in this trial in January 2017.
SERDAR EROĞLU: Six trials have been brought against Eroğlu, cumhuriyet.com.tr’s former news manager, in which charges are filed for publishing terrorist organisations’ announcements, targeting people engaged in counterterrorism duties, slander and defamation and defaming the President.
MİNE KIRIKKANAT: Adnan Oktar and Fethullah Gülen complained about her article headed, “The world is a lie and the drug is from the company.” Her imprisonment for up to two years and eight months was sought on defamation charges against her. She was acquitted in this trial in April 2014.
ÖZGÜR MUMCU: A trial was initiated against him in June 2015 on the charge of defaming the President over his article headed, “Tyrannical and Cowardly.” Mumcu was acquitted in May 2016 in this trial in which his imprisonment for up to four years and eight months was sought.
Perennial cause of concern for those in power
Cumhuriyet has been in every rulership’s sights. Our columnist Uğur Mumcu, who lost his life in a bomb attack in 1993, on trial together with Orhan Erinç before a martial-law court in 1980. Thirty-seven years have passed since then and our paper’s foundation chair Orhan Erinç is still being placed in the dock.
The AKP regime’s damages suits
Apart from the penal cases, suits have been filed with the first-instance civil courts for non-material damages in amounts of up to one million lira. In conjunction with the 17-25 December process, ninety-three suits for damages have been brought in which government officials feature prominently as claimants. Here are a few examples of these cases:
Topbaş’s son-in-law wants one million: Ömer Faruk Kavurmacı, son-in-law of Kadir Topbaş who was forced to stand down as Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality Mayor, has filed a one-million-lira damages claim over our columnist Çiğdem Toker’s article headed, “Son-in-law disaster on Vatan.” The report in question covers the opening for development by Fatih Municipality of an 8,000m2 piece of land used as a disaster assembly area. The owners of the company that bought the land were in fact Kavurmacı and his partner.
Binali Yıldırım wants 500,000 lira: Prime-Minister Binali Yıldırım, who was revealed to have five companies in Malta along with his sons Erkam and Bülent Yıldırım in the Paradise Papers leaks that were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) along with 96 media organisations of which Cumhuriyet is also a media partner, is suing our newspaper along with his sons for 500,000 lira in non-material damages citing an attack on his personal rights.
Son-in-law Albayrak wants 100,000 lira: Erdoğan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak is suing for 100,000 lira in non-material damages in a suit he has brought over our reporter Pelin Ünker’s report headed, “Local-national an excuse, Panama is great.”
They want 260,000 lira for the 17-25 December reports: An administrative fine of 28,600 lira has already been paid in connection with Can Dündar’s investigations into 17-25 December. Following the penal case, President Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan along with Usame Kutub, Abdulkerim Çay, Yasin el Kadı, Muaz Kadı, Cengiz Aktürk and Hasan Doğan, whose names are mentioned in the 25 December investigation, are suing for a total of 260,000 lira in a damages suit.
Fethullahist structure’s damages suits
It appears that 424 damages suits were brought against our paper for reports and articles in which the pre-AKP period from 1990 to November 2002 was scrutinised. Of these suits, 73 were filed by Fethullah Gülen, suspects who fled after the coup attempt and Gulenist entities that have been closed under decrees with the force of law. Numbering among our columnists and reporters who were sued by Gülen and the Gulenists are our columnists Hikmet Çetinkaya and Aydın Engin and our detained reporter Ahmet Şık, who are being tried in the Cumhuriyet trial, one of our trial lawyers, Fikret İlkiz and our chief columnist İlhan Selçuk who lost his life in 2010. Gülen along with people and bodies with Gulenist affiliations brought a further 34 non-material damages actions against our columnists and reporters from November 2002 when the AKP came to power until 2016.
On the other hand, in the pre-AKP period many retraction actions were brought over reports and articles about Gülen especially those by Hikmet Çetinkaya. It is stated in many comments about retractions that are still accessible at Gülen’s website that our newspaper published many retractions through court intervention. The following striking pronouncement in a comment about the retractions dated 9 May 1997 is to be found on the site:
“The columnist (Çetinkaya) has been ordered to pay compensation and has been sentenced to various punishments. A large number of suits continue to be heard. What the legal situation amounts to in this case is that it has also been substantiated by the courts that the aspersions he has cast are of an untruthful and insulting nature.”
In the times when the Gülenists and the AKP regime were friends, penal cases were also brought against our paper’s columnists through Gülen’s complaints. Numbering among the targets of the complaints were our chief columnist İlhan Selçuk, our columnists Orhan Bursalı, Mine Kırıkkanat and Cüneyt Arcayürek, our former editor Mehmet Sucu and our former editor-in-chief İbrahim Yıldız.