Fethi Altun, a former reporter for shuttered outlets Cihan News Agency and the daily Zaman, was arrested in 2016 while trying to leave the country after the failed attempted coup. He was convicted in 2017 of "being member of a [terrorist] organization."
Bulgarian authorities detained Altun after finding the journalist hidden in a truck with other migrants near the country’s border with Turkey, on October 12, 2016, according to court documents. The Bulgarians handed him to Turkish authorities on October 15, according to the documents. At the time, Altun was attempting to leave the country to find work, according to the court documents.
Three days after he was sent back to Turkey, a court in the western province of Edirne ordered the journalist, who is from the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, to be jailed pending an investigation, according to the court documents. An indictment dated December 28, 2016, charged the journalist with "being member of a [terrorist] organization."
A court in Edirne on December 19, 2017, found Altun guilty and sentenced him to seven years and six months in prison, according to court documents. A court order said that before the journalist was arrested in Bulgaria, authorities were looking for him on suspicion that he had violated the constitution and was a member of a banned group.
CPJ found the evidence presented against the journalist similar to that presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey who worked for news outlets that the government accuses of manipulating the public to support exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" that it calls FETÖ/PDY, and alleges that it masterminded a failed July 2016 military coup.
Evidence cited against Altun included having an account at a bank allegedly linked to Gülenists; having installed on his phone the Bylock app, which authorities claim is evidence of being a member of the group; his previous employment at pro-Gülen news outlets; Facebook posts; and his attempt to leave the country.
Altun denied being a member of a terrorist organization and told the court that he quit Zaman in March 2016 and had tried to flee Turkey because he was unable to find new work due to his past employment with that publication and Cihan, according to court documents.
Zelal Pelin Doğan, the journalist’s lawyer, told CPJ in late 2019 that Altun’s health was good and that he was able to receive visits from family and friends. Doğan said that Altun said conditions in the prison were poor, citing general hygiene, high prices at the commissary, arbitrary raids and cell searches, and confiscation of books and personal writing.
Altun is in Kandıra Prison in the western province of Kocaeli.
As of late 2020, the journalist’s lawyer had not responded to CPJ’s calls and texts requesting updates in the case. CPJ was unable to determine any updates to the journalist’s case or to the state of his health.
CPJ emailed a request for comment on Altun’s case to the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2020, but did not receive a reply.