On February 19, 2022, an assailant shot journalist Güngör Arslan, publisher and news editor of the local online newspaper Ses Kocaeli, in the right leg and the chest at his office in the city of İzmit, in Turkey’s western Kocaeli province, according to news reports. Arslan was taken to a hospital but could not be saved.
In statement released the day of the attack, the Kocaeli governor’s office said that Turkish authorities arrested a suspect, later identified as Ramazan Özkan, and apprehended a gun. The suspect entered the Ses Kocaeli offices under the guise of having information about a potential story, and shot the journalist, according to reports. Özkan later confessed to the killing, and told police that he acted on the direction of two other individuals, according to news reports and an indictment prepared in June.
Two more people were arrested as part of the investigation on February 25, and seven more suspects arrested on February 27. Two other suspects were released from custody with restrictions, according to those reports.
Arslan covered local politics and corruption allegations for Ses Kocaeli as a reporter and columnist. The journalist had been receiving frequent threats for years, his daughter Nazlıcan Arslan told news outlets.
Prosecutors claimed that Arslan was murdered because of his journalistic work, including columns about alleged fraud in local administrative activities, according to the indictment. The prosecution alleged that defendants Burhan Polat, a businessman, and Ersin Kurt, a lawyer and businessman, conspired to have Arslan killed because he was reporting against their interests. Arslan published two critical columns and a news story on Ses Kocaeli’s website about Kurt in early 2022.
The indictment said that Polat and Kurt “instigated” Özkan to shoot Arslan, and the other suspects, who were charged with offenses including illegal firearms ownership to tampering with evidence, aided the conspiracy.
The defendants claimed that Arslan was flirting with and disturbing a woman Polat was involved with, and that was the reason for the animosity between the journalist and them, according to the indictment. The indictment added that the woman told prosecutors that she is not involved with Polat, that she was pressured to offer false testimony by his accomplices, and Arslan did not disturb her as they alleged.
Polat and Kurt denied the accusations regarding their involvement in the murder according to the indictment and reports. Polat has said he did not order Arslan to be shot and Kurt said there was no animosity between him and the journalist.
On January 9, 2023, the First Kocaeli Court of Serious Crimes found Özkan guilty of premeditated murder and Polat guilty of instigating murder, and sentenced them both to life in prison without the possibility of parole, while acquitting Kurt and releasing him from jail, according to news reports.
According to a report by Ses Kocaeli, Özkan said he did intend to kill Arslan, and Polat said his intention was to scare the journalist, not to kill him. Kurt pleaded innocent, stating that he had no ties to the murder, that report said.
The court also sentenced eight other defendants on charges including assistance to premeditated murder, illegal firearm ownership, attempting to tamper with criminal evidence, and assisting a criminal, imposing sentences ranging from 30 months to 27 years, according to those news reports.
Bizim Kocaeli, Arslan’s previous publication, was among the more than 100 media outlets that were shuttered in the aftermath of the failed 2016 coup, as CPJ has documented.
The Ses Kocaeli offices were shot at by unidentified assailants in April 2020; the offices were empty and no one was hurt, as CPJ documented at the time.
CPJ emailed the Kocaeli chief prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not receive any reply.