Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, the founder and publisher of news website Subuhaber, is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. He is serving seven and a half years in prison after being convicted of being a member of a terrorist organization. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in March 2020.
A court on July 24, 2016, ordered Kuloğlu to be held in pretrial detention, according to news reports. His arrest was 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, as the government calls it) within Turkey that it alleges masterminded a failed July 15, 2016, military coup.
Kuloğlu is on trial with several co-accused. 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 Kuloğlu’s case, prosecutors cited as evidence the journalist’s interview that he published in Subuhaber with an anonymous pro-Gülen whistleblower known as Fuat Avni (@fuatavni), who used Twitter to share his leaks, as well as reports about the whistleblower’s tweets.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Kuloğlu 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 Kuloğlu and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Kuloğlu to seven years and six 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 remain free pending the appeal, according to reports.
The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the local court’s verdict for Kuloğlu, as well as the 16 other journalists on trial, on March 16, 2020, according to the official judgment, which was not posted on Turkey’s e-justice system, known as UYAP, until June 8, when the judgment became official, local freedom of expression news website Expression Interrupted reported. Five other journalists who were Kuloğlu’s co-defendants were released on June 16 after their convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
Kuloğlu is detained in Silivri Prison, Istanbul.
In September 2020, nearly 60 lawyers and law students were taken into police custody across the country amid a new crackdown on members of the legal profession accused of having a connection to FETÖ, according to news reports. Thirty-three were imprisoned pending trial, while 27 were released under judicial control, reports said.
As of late 2020, Yusuf Taş, Kuloğlu’s lawyer, had not responded to CPJ’s messages sent via WhatsApp. CPJ was unable to determine any updates to the journalist’s case or to his health status. CPJ could not determine whether Taş was among those arrested.
CPJ emailed a request for comment on Kuloğlu’s case to the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2020, but did not receive a reply.