Gültekin Avcı, a former prosecutor and a columnist for the shuttered daily Bugün, has been repeatedly detained since 2015, with his columns cited as evidence against him. He was most recently arrested in 2019, one day after he was released from prison. In December 2020, he was convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to life in prison.
Police arrested Avcı on August 25, 2016, after the journalist had spent only weeks out of prison. Avcı previously had been detained on September 18, 2015, in the western city of Izmir. On September 21, 2015, the Second Penal Court of Peace in Istanbul ordered him to be held in pretrial detention on charges including "attempting to overthrow the government" and being a member of a terrorist organization.
Prosecutors charged Avcı in connection with a series of columns he wrote in 2013 and 2014 for the independent daily Bugün in which he alleged that the Turkish National Intelligence Organization, the country’s spy agency, had links to an Iranian-backed group called Tawhid-Salam—which Turkish authorities had declared a terrorist organization.
News reports cited Avcı’s lawyer as saying the journalist was not allowed to testify in court, had been mistreated in custody, and denied food.
Four police officers were detained in connection with the case, but three were later released. Avcı and the officers were accused of "attempting to overthrow the government," with the journalist allegedly using his column to try to turn public opinion against the ruling party.
Avcı is a former prosecutor and the legal representative of Hidayet Karaca, chairman of the Samanyolu Broadcast Group, who was imprisoned on anti-state charges in December 2014, according to news reports.
Avcı was released from Silivri Prison in Istanbul on June 9, 2016, having spent seven months behind bars awaiting trial. His trial had been scheduled to resume on August 2, 2016, but on August 25, police in the coastal city of Izmir detained him again as part of a purge of suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey. The government alleges that the group masterminded a failed July 2016 military coup.
In the indictment, Avcı is charged with “being [a] member of a [terrorist] organization” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to a state news agency Anatolia (AA) report from December 12, 2017.
The trial started in Istanbul on February 14, 2018, and Avcı joined the hearing via teleconference from prison.
In March 2018, Avcı’s case was merged with a separate trial known as the “Selam-Tevhid conspiracy trial,” according to another AA report. Defendants in that trial are accused of being Gülenist infiltrators within law enforcement who allegedly used illegal wiretapping against hundreds of people in an attempt to overthrow the government.
An Istanbul court released Avcı from prison on probation on September 13, 2019, but police in the western city of Izmir took him into custody the following day on a new arrest warrant. According to a timeline of the case on the pro-Gülen news website Bold, a prosecutor appealed to a higher court to have Avcı taken back into custody.
On December 17, 2020, the 14th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes convicted Avcı on conspiracy charges and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole for attempting to overthrow the government.
İsmail Avcı, the journalist’s son and legal representative, told CPJ in October 2021 that “the backbone of the indictment” against Avcı was the columns he had written, and that the three judges in the case voted two-to-one in favor of the life sentence.
İsmail Avcı said the Constitutional Court of Turkey denied appeals based on each of his father’s arrests, and he further appealed those arrests to the European Court of Human Rights in the summer of 2021. The court has yet to hear his appeal. İsmail Avcı also said he has filed over a dozen criminal complaints against pro-government media outlets for allegedly publishing false information about his father and the trial.
The Supreme Court of Appeals ordered a retrial in 2023 due to some minor complications in the trial, İsmail Avcı told CPJ in November 2023. The Supreme Court did not object to the guilty verdict but saw irregularities in the proceedings, the lawyer told CPJ, adding that he doesn’t think the outcome will change.
İsmail Avcı told CPJ in October 2023 that his father was being held at the Izmir High Security F-Type Prison No. 2, also known as Kırıklar Prison.
Avcı developed health problems in prison, which caused him to develop panic attacks and lose his balance, frequently falling and hurting himself, according to an October 2023 report by the pro-Gülen news website TR724. Avcı has been experiencing balance problems and has been falling down and hurting himself, this report said, adding that Avcı was assaulted by a prison guard on the morning of September 24 or 25 when he couldn’t get up for the daily prisoner count.
Avcı’s body was covered in bruises in September 2023 when his relatives visited him in prison according to a report by the pro-Gülen news website Kronos.
CPJ’s email to the Turkish Ministry of Justice
on November 1, 2023,
did not receive any reply.