Emre Soncan

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Emre Soncan is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. In 2018, he was found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization. 

On July 24, 2016, Soncan, a former military affairs correspondent for the shuttered daily newspaper Zaman, wrote on Twitter that he had learned that police were at his house, and that he was going to turn himself in. He was detained amid a sweeping purge of journalists and others suspected of following exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. 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 Soncan 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."

In March 2016, a court ordered Zaman‘s parent company, the Feza Media Group, put under government trustees, saying the company and the newspaper had ties to the Gülenist network. On July 27, 2016, the government used emergency powers to close the publication. 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 coup attempt.

All but one of the journalists with whom Soncan is on trial were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries up to 10 years in prison, according to the indictment.

CPJ found the indictment to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence in these cases 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.

The indictment accused the defendants of manipulating the public perception of FETÖ to turn citizens against the government, which prosecutors argued made them members of the group that Turkey alleges is behind the attempted coup.

Prosecutors presented as evidence against Soncan a book that the journalist wrote on former President Abdullah Gül and interviews that he gave about the book; his social media activity; and his account at Bank Asya, which the government alleged to be a Gülenist institution.

When the trial began in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Soncan and four of his co-accused to be detained for the duration of the trial, according to news reports.

An Istanbul court on April 10, 2018, found Soncan guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization," and sentenced him to seven years and six months in prison, reports said.

According to documents that Soncan’s lawyers shared with CPJ, a local appeals court in Istanbul rejected his appeal on July 3, 2018. The lawyers later appealed to the national Supreme Court of Appeals.

The journalist’s lawyer, İrem Danacıoğlu, told CPJ in late 2019 that the journalist was in good health, had access to books, newspapers, mail, and visits from family and lawyers. She said that the journalist was in a single cell at his own request. 

Soncan is being held in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison. 

The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the local court’s verdict for 17 other journalists convicted in the joint 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. However, Soncan was not listed on the court document or in the Expression Interrupted report as being part of the judgment. 

As of late 2020, CPJ was unable to determine any updates to Soncan’s legal status or his health. Turkish lawyers, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal, told CPJ in September 2020 that Danacıoğlu was among nearly 60 lawyers and law students taken into police custody across the country that month amid a new crackdown on members of the legal profession accused of having a connection to FETÖ, according to news reports. Thirty-three were imprisoned pending trial, while 27 were released under judicial control, reports said.

CPJ emailed a request for comment on Soncan’s case to the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2020, but did not receive a reply.