Police detained Murat Sabuncu, editor-in-chief of the pro-opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, in a raid of the newspaper’s main office in Istanbul on October 31, 2016, alongside at least 11 other staff members and board members of the foundation that publishes it.
The Chief Prosecutor’s Office of Istanbul released an official statement soon after the raid, saying the journalists were detained on suspicion of producing propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and what the government calls the Fethullah Gülen Terror Organization (FETÖ), two rival groups the Turkish government classes as terrorist organizations. The statement said investigators were looking into alleged irregularities in the last elections of the board of directors of the foundation that owns Cumhuriyet, and that the newspaper published pro-coup propaganda in advance of a July 2016 failed coup attempt.
Istanbul’s Ninth Court of Penal Peace on November 6, 2016, jailed Sabuncu and eight other Cumhuriyet journalists and directors, pending trial on accusations of “acting on behalf of an armed terrorist organization while not being a member.” Because an October 30, 2016, court order made the investigation into the newspaper, its staff, and employees secret, defense lawyers and the public have limited access to the state’s evidence.
Cumhuriyet reported that the court’s order to jail Sabuncu and his colleagues pending trial cited several of the newspaper’s news stories and headlines that authorities claimed were propaganda for FETÖ and the PKK.
Among the reports that interrogators raised was a 2015 article alleging that Turkey’s intelligence service was smuggling weapons to Islamist groups in Syria under cover of humanitarian aid, according to Cumhuriyet. Can Dündar–who resigned as the newspaper’s editor in August 2016 and announced he would not return to Turkey until the state of emergency imposed after the July 2016 failed coup attempt was lifted–and former Ankara correspondent Erdem Gül face a separate trial in connection with that report. CPJ in November 2016 honored Dündar with its International Press Freedom Award.
Cumhuriyet also reported, citing the court document, that authorities accused the newspaper of being sympathetic to the Gülenist network because the newspaper referred to the group as the “Hizmet movement,” as its adherents do, rather than using the government’s name, FETÖ. Authorities argued that Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest newspaper, had changed its editorial policy, and that it was being manipulated by FETÖ and the PKK, Cumhuriyet reported.
The Cumhuriyet trial began on July 24, 2017. According to the indictment, prosecutors alleged that the newspaper’s journalism was evidence of its affiliation with the outlawed organizations. The hearings centered on the contents of the paper’s news reports and columns and its selection of stories for the front page.
Prosecutors alleged that the ruling board of the foundation that publishes the newspaper was altered with intent to remove members who would object to the alleged editorial policy supportive of terror groups.
Sabuncu is charged with “aiding an armed terrorist organization without being a member,” according to the indictment.
In the course of the trial, the court has ordered all but three of the defendants to be released on probation pending the outcome, according to reports.
The next hearing was scheduled for December 25, 2017. The journalist is detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.