Gültekin Avcı, a former prosecutor and a columnist for the shuttered daily Bugün, has been repeatedly detained since 2016, 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, reports said. 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, according to news reports.
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—as CPJ documented at the time.
News reports cited Avcı’s lawyer as saying the journalist was not allowed to testify in court. The lawyer also said Avcı had been mistreated in custody and denied food, the reports said.
Four police officers were detained in connection with the same case, but three were later released, news reports said. 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, those reports said.
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, CPJ reported at the time. 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 that it alleges masterminded a failed July 2016 military coup. A court in Izmir late that night ordered him held for "being member of an armed terrorist organization," according to the pro-government daily newspaper Yeni Şafak.
In the indictment, Avcı is charged with “being 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, according to local reports citing the AA article.
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, according to reports.
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, reports said. 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 the conspiracy charges and sentenced him to life without the possibility of parole for attempting to overthrow the government, according to news reports.
İsmail Avcı, the journalist’s son and legal representative, told CPJ in a phone interview in October 2021 that his father was being held at the Izmir High Security F-Type Prison No. 2, also known as Kırıklar Prison.
He said “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, with the dissenting judge holding that the highest charge should have been “helping” a terrorist organization.
İsmail Avcı said the Constitutional Court of Turkey had denied appeals based on each of his father’s arrests, and he further appealed those arrests to the European Court of Human Rights in Summer 2021.
İsmail Avcı said that, because his father’s sentence would not be formally enacted until any final appeals had been denied, and because Turkish law mandates that no one can be held for more than seven years without that finalization, he believed his father should be released soon while his appeals were pending.
İsmail Avcı said he visits his father every week. His health is fine and he has been vaccinated against COVID-19, and has not been subjected to abuse or mistreatment, but has not been able to get the books he wants to read.
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.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2021 for comment, but did not receive any reply.