Cuma Ulus, a former news editor for the shuttered daily newspaper Millet, 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. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in March 2020.
Police in Istanbul detained Ulus 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 Ulus 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."
The daily newspaper Millet was one of several media outlets owned by the Koza İpek Group, which the government took over in October 2015, alleging it had links to FETÖ/PDY. Trustees appointed by the government hollowed out media outlets the company owned and shut them down in March 2016, saying they were not financially viable.
The government-appointed management fired Ulus from Millet immediately after taking control of the newspaper, according to media reports.
In the original indictment, all but one of the 17 co-accused in Ulus’ 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 Ulus’ case, prosecutors cited as evidence his employment by Millet, a statement that he made to a news agency, his social media activity, his account at Bank Asya–which authorities claim is a Gülenist bank–and his attendance at an alleged Gülenist college.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Ulus 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 Ulus and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Ulus 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.
The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the local court’s verdict for Ulus, as well as the 16 other journalists on trial, on March 16, 2020, according to the official judgment, which was not posted on Turkey’s e-justice system, known as UYAP, until June 8, when the judgment became official, local freedom of expression news website Expression Interrupted reported. Five other journalists who were Ulus’ co-defendants were released on June 16 after their convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Ulus’ lawyer, Ömer Kavili, told CPJ in late 2020 that they had appealed his case to the Constitutional Court of Turkey in June 2020 following the decision of the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Ulus is detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.
Kavili told CPJ that Ulus did not report any health problems. He said the journalist is allowed visitation by family and lawyers, and has access to books and newspapers, despite delays in receiving the material.
CPJ emailed a request for comment on Ulus’ case to the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2020, but did not receive a reply.