Turkish authorities issued a warrant for the detention of Mehmet Özdemir, the then 41-year-old managing editor of Yeni Hayat, on July 27, 2016, as part of a sweeping purge of suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The Turkish government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” (FETÖ/PDY, by its Turkish acronym) and of masterminding a July 15, 2016, failed military coup.
CPJ was not able to determine the date police took him into custody. But on July 27, the journalist wrote on Twitter that he was about to turn himself in to police. Court records show that on August 4, 2016, Istanbul’s Third Court of Penal Peace ordered him jailed pending trial on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization, based on the “strong suspicion” that he was a member of FETÖ/PDY because the newspapers he worked for were “within the structure of FETÖ/PDY’s media arm.”
Asked about his work for newspapers the government accuses of being affiliated with the Gülenist network, Özdemir told the court that he started his career as a journalist as a local reporter for the daily newspaper Zaman, eventually rising to become the newspaper’s news editor, until a court ordered government-appointed trustees to take over the paper in March 2016, saying it had ties to the Gülenist network. The new trustees fired him soon after, he told the court. Özdemir told the court he also worked for Aksiyon magazine, which like Zaman was shuttered by government decree after the attempted coup.
According to the order to jail him pending trial, Özdemir told the court that he and other former Zaman journalists started to publish a new newspaper, Yeni Hayat, but the daily newspaper closed after the failed coup attempt because printing houses refused to work with it. He was the managing editor of Yeni Hayat during its brief lifespan.
From these statements, the court concluded that there was “a strong suspicion” that he was a member of a terrorist organization, and ordered him jailed in Istanbul’s Silivri prison, pending trial.
Özdemir is on trial alongside 30 journalists and media workers and an academic. All are charged with “attempting, through violence and force, to disrupt and replace the order as recognized by Turkey’s Constitution,” “attempting through violence and force to eliminate or prevent Parliament from carrying out its duties,” and “being a member of an armed terrorist organization.” Not all of the defendants are in custody.
The trial’s first hearing began in Istanbul on September 18, 2017, according to local reports.
In the indictment, reviewed by CPJ, the prosecution said that the defendants’ journalism, including opinion pieces or their employment by pro-Gülen outlets such as the daily Zaman and Cihan News Agency, is evidence that the journalists were part of the so-called Fethullah Gülen Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure (FETÖ/PDY).
The indictment accused the journalists—which it referred to as “the media force of the terrorist organization”—of producing false news to weaken the government, insult or humiliate the authorities, attempt to disrupt the peace, and to create an environment suitable for a coup.
Özdemir denies the charges, according to the indictment. If convicted, he faces multiple life sentences, without parole.
The next court date was scheduled for December 8, 2017, according to press reports.