Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu 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 should be eligible for parole in March 2020, according to his lawyer. 

Police in Istanbul detained Kalyoncu, an author and former columnist for the magazine Aksiyon, 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 Kalyoncu 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 Aksiyon‘s parent company, the Feza Media Group, put under the trusteeship of figures selected by the government, saying the company and the newspaper had ties to the Gülenist network. On July 27, 2016, the government used emergency powers it assumed after the July 2016 failed coup attempt to close the magazine, saying it was a FETÖ/PDY mouthpiece.

CPJ research shows that authorities have targeted dozens of former journalists from media outlets owned by the Feza Media Group with arrest and prosecution on terrorism charges since the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

In the original indictment, all but one of the 17 co-accused in Kalyoncu’s case were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries a penalty of 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 Kalyoncu’s case, prosecutors cited as evidence his employment by Zaman and Aksiyon, and his social media activity as evidence of membership of the group.

When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Kalyoncu 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 Kalyoncu and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Kalyoncu 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. 

In response to a June 2018 poll of jailed journalists carried out by the P24 Independent Journalism Association, Kalyoncu said that he has vertigo and a heart condition, and prison authorities were providing him with access to doctors and medication. 

In late 2019, Gökay Seferoğlu, a lawyer representing the journalist, said that Kalyoncu had psychological issues common in people who are incarcerated for a long time, as well as joint and muscle pain. The lawyer said that Kalyoncu has access to medical care, but refused to go to a hospital because he would have to be handcuffed.  

Seferoğlu said that as of late 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals had not reviewed the appeal from the joint trial and the Constitutional Court had not heard his appeal that argues that Kalyoncu’s right to a free trial was violated.  

Kalyoncu has access to mail and newspapers, and can see family members and lawyers in prison, Seferoğlu said, adding that the journalist should be eligible for parole in March 2020.

Kalyoncu is detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.