Police detained Akın Atalay, chief executive officer of the pro-opposition daily Cumhuriyet, as he disembarked from a flight from Berlin at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport on November 11, 2016, according to press reports. He was among the editors, staff, and board members whose arrest police sought in an October 31, 2016, raid on Cumhuriyet‘s headquarters in Istanbul, but was abroad at the time of the raid. Istanbul’s Ninth Court of Penal Peace on November 12, 2016, ordered Atalay jailed pending trial on terrorism charges, according to Cumhuriyet.
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul released an official statement soon after the October 31, 2016, raid, saying the journalists were detained on suspicion of producing propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what the government calls the Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization (FETÖ), two rival groups the Turkish government classes as terrorist organizations. The statement said investigators were looking into alleged irregularities in the last elections of the board of directors of the foundation that owns Cumhuriyet, and that the newspaper published pro-coup propaganda in advance of a July 2016 failed coup attempt.
Atalay faces accusations of “acting on behalf of an armed terrorist organization while not being a member.” Because an October 30, 2016, court order made the investigation into the newspaper, its staff, and employees secret, defense lawyers and the public have limited access to the state’s evidence.
According to Cumhuriyet reports, the court’s order to jail Atalay and the other Cumhuriyet journalists and directors cited news stories and headlines that authorities claimed were propaganda for FETÖ and the PKK.
According to court records, interrogators asked the detained Cumhuriyet directors and journalists about the newspaper’s coverage. Among the reports that interrogators raised was a 2015 article alleging that Turkey’s intelligence service was smuggling weapons to Islamist groups in Syria under cover of humanitarian aid, according to Cumhuriyet. Can Dündar–who resigned as the newspaper’s editor in August 2016 and announced he would not return to Turkey until the state of emergency imposed after the July 2016 failed coup attempt was lifted–and former Ankara correspondent Erdem Gül face a separate trial in connection with that report. CPJ in November 2016 honored Dündar with its International Press Freedom Award.
Cumhuriyet also reported, citing the court document, that authorities accused the newspaper of being sympathetic to the Gülenist network because the newspaper referred to the group as the “Hizmet movement,” as its adherents do, rather than using the government’s name, FETÖ. Authorities argued that Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest newspaper, had changed its editorial policy, and that it was being manipulated by FETÖ and the PKK, Cumhuriyet reported.
The Cumhuriyet trial began on July 24, 2017. According to the indictment, prosecutors alleged that the newspaper’s journalism was evidence of its affiliation with the outlawed organizations. The hearings centered on the contents of the paper’s news reports and columns and its selection of stories for the front page.
Prosecutors alleged that the ruling board of the foundation that publishes the newspaper was altered with intent to remove members who would object to the alleged editorial policy supportive of terror groups.
Atalay is charged with “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member” and “malpractice through service,” according to the indictment.
In the course of the trial, the court has ordered all but three of the defendants to be released on probation pending the outcome, according to news reports.
The next hearing was scheduled for December 25, 2017.
Atalay was jailed in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison, pending trial, according to press reports. Tora Pekin, a lawyer for Atalay, told CPJ in late 2017 that he is not allowed to send or receive letters or receive visits from anyone except immediate relatives. That means that he cannot see his long-term partner.