Habib Güler is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. He has twice been charged in joint trials. In 2018, he was acquitted of charges that linked him to the coup attempt, but found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization. He should be eligible for parole in March 2020, according to his lawyer.
Police in Istanbul detained Güler, the shuttered daily Zaman‘s former parliamentary reporter, on July 25, 2016, his lawyer told CPJ. Istanbul’s First Court of Penal Peace on July 29, 2016, arraigned Güler and ordered him jailed, pending trial, on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization.
The charge was based on the suspicion that he is a follower of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" in Turkey (FETÖ/PDY, by its Turkish acronym) and of masterminding a July 15, 2016, failed military coup.
An Istanbul court in March 2016 ordered the Feza Media Group, which owned Zaman and several other media outlets, placed under trustees appointed by the government, saying the newspaper was a FETÖ/PDY mouthpiece. The government used emergency powers arrogated after the failed July 15, 2016, military coup to order the newspaper closed by decree on July 27, 2016.
According to court records seen by CPJ, the state alleged that the then 38-year-old Güler’s work at Zaman was evidence of his membership in the group. The state also alleged that police caught Güler as he was destroying evidence, one of the conditions under which a suspect can be ordered jailed pending trial according to Turkish law.
Güler told the court that prosecutors asked him about his activity on Twitter. The court specifically asked him about one post he published on the social media website on October 13, 2014. The court document did not include the content of the tweet, and the tweet has apparently been deleted since, but Güler told the court, "I tweeted that, but I did not fully understand the [Gülenist network] back then. I behaved emotionally."
When asked if he wanted to help authorities crack down on FETÖ/PDY in exchange for leniency, Güler said he was only a parliamentary reporter and that the "[people] really responsible escaped abroad," according to the court’s order to jail him pending trial.
Güler is one of 17 co-accused on trial together. In the original indictment, all but one of them were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries up to 10 years in prison, according to news reports. The indictment accused the defendants of manipulating public perception of FETÖ to turn people against the government, which, prosecutors argued, made them members of the group.
CPJ found the indictment to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence 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.
In Güler’s case, prosecutors cited as evidence his employment by Zaman, his social media activism and his account with Bank Asya, which the government accused of being a Gülenist institution.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Güler and several of the other journalists to be released while the case was heard, according to news reports. Prosecutors successfully appealed the decision, and authorities ordered an investigation into the judges who had ordered the release and they were relieved of duty, according to the reports.
An Istanbul court on March 8, 2018, found Güler and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Güler to six years and three months in prison, according to reports.
The court acquitted all the defendants of the more serious coup-related charges in the second indictment. At least 18 of the journalists were sent to prison for varying prison terms. Two of them—Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy—were sentenced and released for time served, and the journalists Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar remained free pending the appeal, according to reports.
Lawyers for the journalists told CPJ they are appealing the verdict.
As of late 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeal had not reviewed the appeal from the joint trial, Güler’s lawyer, Barış Topuk, told CPJ. He added that his client should be eligible for parole in March 2020. Topuk said that Güler is in satisfactory health and is allowed visits from family and lawyers.
He is in Silivri prison in Istanbul.