Abdullah Kılıç is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. He has twice been charged in joint trials. In 2018, he was acquitted of charges that linked him to the coup attempt, but found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization. He will be eligible for parole in March 2020, according to his lawyer.
Police in Istanbul detained Kılıç, a former columnist for the shuttered daily newspaper Meydan, on July 25, 2016, as part of a purge of suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey and alleges that it masterminded a failed July 2016 military coup. Istanbul’s First Court of Penal Peace ordered the journalist jailed pending trial on terrorism charges.
According to records of the columnist’s interrogation and the order jailing him, which CPJ reviewed, prosecutors questioned Kılıç on the suspicion that he was a member of FETÖ/PDY’s "media arm," based on his work for Zaman and other newspapers the government accuses of manipulating the public to support the organization and the attempted coup. The government took over Zaman and affiliated publications in March 2016 and shut them down by decree in July that year, alleging links to the Gülenist network.
Prosecutors questioned Kılıç on suspicion of "committing crimes in the name of a [terrorist] organization without being a member," "knowingly and willingly helping a [terrorist] organization without being involved in the organization’s hierarchical structure," "founding or leading an armed terrorist organization," and "being member of an armed terrorist organization," according to the documents.
Kılıç denied the charges, court documents show. He said that although he worked at Zaman until February 2011, he subsequently worked at other newspapers and television stations and had reported critically on the Gülenist network. Kılıç also said he had criticized previous attempted coups in documentaries, columns, and on social media.
Kılıç said he left Meydan in April 2015, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in a speech warned, "For the last time: those who stay within this [Gülenist] structure will pay the price and suffer consequences," and that he had worked in the flower business since. Meydan and more than 100 other media outlets were closed by decree along with Zaman on July 27, 2016.
Kılıç went on trial with several other journalists. When the trial began in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Kılıç and several of the other journalists to be released while the case was heard. However, authorities brought fresh charges and the journalists were ordered to remain in custody, according to news reports. Authorities ordered an investigation into the judges who had ordered the release and they were relieved of duty, according to reports.
In the original indictment, all but one of the co-accused were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries up to 10 years in prison. The second indictment listed the charges as “attempting, through violence and force, to disrupt and replace the order as recognized by Turkey’s Constitution” and “attempting through violence and force to eliminate or prevent Parliament from carrying out its duties.” Both charges carry a maximum life sentence without parole.
CPJ found both indictments to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence in these cases journalistic activity or acts of free speech and communication, or cited circumstantial evidence such as being employed by a certain media outlet or having an account at a bank allegedly linked to Gülenists.
The first indictment accused the defendants of manipulating the public perception of FETÖ to turn citizens against the government which, prosecutors argued, made the journalists members of the group that Turkey alleges is behind the attempted coup. The second indictment, which was presented as an addition to the original case, argued that the journalists should be held responsible for more than alleged membership to the group.
In Kılıç’s case, prosecutors cited as evidence in the first indictment his columns at Meydan and his tweets. Witness testimony from former colleagues alleged that Kılıç was pro-Gülen, and the prosecutors alleged that he had an account at Bank Asya, which the government alleged was a Gülenist institution.
The second indictment included as evidence Kılıç’s mobile phone activity and communication records with people who were wanted or on trial for alleged Gülenist activity. Some of these people had the Bylock App on their phones, according to authorities, who claim that the app is evidence of being a FETÖ member. Kılıç did not have the app installed on his phone, according to the indictment.
An Istanbul court on March 8, 2018, found Kılıç and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Kılıç to six years and three months in prison, according to reports. The court acquitted all the defendants of the more serious coup-related charges in the second indictment. At least 18 of the journalists were sent to prison for varying prison terms. Two of them—Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy—were sentenced and released for time served, and the journalists Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar remained free pending appeal, according to reports.
Lawyers for Kılıç told CPJ they are appealing the verdict. The lawyers said they also filed a case with the European Court of Human Rights, citing a lack of evidence that Kılıç was a member of a terrorist organization.
As of late 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals had not reviewed the appeal of the joint trial, and there had been no updates on the case with the European court, the journalist’s lawyer, Metehan Arısoy, said.
Arısoy told CPJ that Kılıç should be eligible for parole in March 2020. Under Turkish law, prisoners can be released under judicial control in the last year of their sentence.
The lawyer added that Kılıç was in good health and had made no complaints about his treatment in Silivri Prison, Istanbul, where he is detained.