Police in Istanbul detained Bilir Kaya on August 16, 2016, in a raid on the, pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem‘s office, the Committee to Protect Journalists reported at the time. Istanbul’s 10th Court of Penal Peace on August 22, 2016, arraigned Kaya, alongside Özgür Gündem‘s news editor, İnan Kızılkaya, on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization and ordered them jailed, pending trial.
According court records of the arraignment hearing, which CPJ has reviewed, the state alleged that Özgür Gündem was founded by and financed by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey classes as a terrorist organization. The state alleged that the paper’s editorial policy was evidence of the PKK’s control of the newspaper, and cited in particular the newspaper’s interviews with PKK leaders and articles written by PKK leaders, and charged that the paper sought to establish the grounds for mass demonstrations. As further evidence, the state said that a banned book about jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan was found in Özgür Gündem‘s office.
Kaya denied all the charges against him, the court records show. Kaya said the newspaper was financed by sales and advertisements, and that the PKK had no control over its finances or editorial policy. He told prosecutors that the newspaper sourced articles by PKK leaders from social media websites and reproduced them so that the Turkish public could be fully informed about current events, court records showed.
According to the court records, Kaya also told prosecutors that police beat him and cursed at him while he was being detained.
Prosecutors submitted an indictment against Kaya and eight other Özgür Gündem journalists and staff to Istanbul’s 23rd Court for Serious Crimes on November 12, 2016, according to press reports. Prosecutors asked the court to sentence the editor and the eight others to life in prison on the charge of “disrupting the unity of the state and the integrity of the nation,” in addition to 17 years and six months in prison for each additional charge of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to press reports.
On November 23, the court approved the indictment, according to local press reports.
Istanbul’s Eighth Court of Penal Peace on August 16, 2016, indefinitely suspended Özgür Gündem at the request of prosecutors beginning an investigation into the newspaper on suspicion it was a mouthpiece for the banned organization. The government on October 29, 2016, ordered the newspaper permanently shut down by emergency decree, CPJ reported at the time.
As of late 2016, Kaya was jailed in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison.