Ahmet Memiş is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. During a joint trial in 2018, he was found guilty of membership of a terrorist organization.
Police detained Memiş, news coordinator of internet news portal Haberdar, on July 24, 2016. Memiş, then 42, turned himself in to police in Istanbul when he learned that they went to his home to detain him in his absence, according to press reports.
According to court documents CPJ reviewed, the judge who ordered the journalist’s detention pending trial on suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization asked him about his work for Haberdar and for the news website Rotahaber, where Memiş worked as an editor from 2010 to 2015. Both websites stopped operating soon after a failed military coup on July 15, 2016, amid a sweeping crackdown on suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and parallel state structure, which it calls FETÖ/PDY and which it alleges was behind the attempted coup.
The judge also asked Memiş if he had any involvement with a Twitter account named Fuat Avni (@fuatavni), which claimed to be the work of someone from within Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s inner circle. Memiş denied any connection to the account.
Memiş was asked about news reports on Fuat Avni’s tweets in Rotahaber and whether he was in any way responsible for publishing opinion columns in Haberdar.
Memiş’s wife, Pınar Memiş, told CPJ that her husband decided to prepare his own defense for the trial because they could not afford legal fees. The Turkish legal system allows defendants to ask for a public defender if they cannot afford a lawyer.
"He was not a member of a [terrorist organization], he did not aid them financially. He was just a journalist," Pınar Memiş said.
Memiş went on trial with several other journalists. In the original indictment, all but one of them were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries up to 10 years in prison, according to reports. The indictment accused the defendants of manipulating public perception of FETÖ to turn people against the government, which, prosecutors argued, made them members of the group.
CPJ found the indictment to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence 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.
In Memiş’s case, prosecutors cited as evidence his employment at Haberdar and Rotahaber and alleged that he published content from, and reports about, the Fuat Avni Twitter account.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Memiş and several of the other journalists to be released while the case was heard, according to news reports. Prosecutors successfully appealed the decision, and authorities ordered an investigation into the judges who had ordered the release and they were relieved of duty, according to the reports.
An Istanbul court on March 8, 2018, found Memiş and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Memiş to seven years and six 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 the journalists told CPJ they were appealing the verdict.
CPJ’s calls to the journalist’s lawyer, Yusuf Taş, in late 2019 were not answered. Metehan Arısoy, who is representing another journalist in the case and who is in contact with Taş, said that as of late 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals had not reviewed the appeal. He said that the journalist was in good health and had no complaints about treatment in prison.
As of late 2019, Memiş was being detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.