Bayram Kaya 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. The journalist will be eligible for parole in March 2020, according to his family and lawyer.
Police in Istanbul detained Kaya, a former reporter for the daily newspaper Zaman and later Yeni Hayat, on July 26, 2016, as part of a sweeping purge of journalists and others suspected of following exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, according to press reports. The government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (or FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey that it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup on July 15, 2016.
Istanbul’s Fifth Court of Penal Peace on June 30, 2016, arraigned Kaya and 16 other journalists, ordering them jailed pending trial on charges of "being members of an armed terrorist organization," according to the media monitoring group P24.
The daily newspaper Hürriyet reported that the 17 journalists were questioned by prosecutors on accusations of "being members of an armed terrorist organization," "founding or leading an armed terrorist organization," "knowingly and willingly helping [a terrorist] organization without being involved in the organization’s hierarchical structure," and "committing crimes in the name of a [terrorist] organization without being a member."
A court in March 2016 ordered Zaman‘s parent company, the Feza Media Group, put under trustees selected by the government, saying the company and the newspaper had ties to the Gülenist network. After the government-appointed trustees took control of Zaman and the newspaper’s editorial line changed accordingly, a group of Zaman journalists founded the newspaper Yeni Hayat. That newspaper stopped publishing after the failed July 2016 coup attempt.
CPJ research shows that authorities have targeted dozens of former Zaman journalists with arrest and prosecution on terrorism charges since the failed July 2016 coup.
In the original indictment, all but one of 17 co-accused in Kaya’s case 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 Kaya’s case, prosecutors cited as evidence the journalist’s three books on journalism and his social media activity as evidence of his alleged membership in the group. One of the books, Babam Sağolsun—Bakanlar ve Oğulları (Thank You Father— The Ministers and Their Sons), is about alleged government corruption; one book claims that the government secretly profiles citizens; and the third is on the 2007 assassination of journalist Hrant Dink.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Kaya 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 Kaya and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Kaya 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 the appeal, according to reports.
Lawyers for the journalists told CPJ they are appealing the verdict.
As of late 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals had not reviewed the appeal, Kaya’s family and his lawyer, İrem Danacıoğlu, told CPJ. The family and lawyer said that the journalist’s health was satisfactory and that he had not made any complaints about his treatment in prison. The journalist should be eligible for parole in March 2020, the family and lawyer said.
Kaya was being detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.