Ufuk Şanlı is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. In 2018 he was found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in March 2020.
Istanbul police detained Şanlı, a former politics and economy correspondent for the shuttered daily newspaper Millet, after the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016, amid a sweeping purge of journalists and others suspected of following exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen. The government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (or FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey that it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup on July 15, 2016.
CPJ could not determine the exact date that Şanlı was taken into custody.
An Istanbul court on July 29, 2016, ordered Şanlı and 16 other journalists jailed pending trial on charges of "being members of an armed terrorist organization," according to the media monitoring group P24. The daily newspaper Hürriyet reported that prosecutors questioned the 17 journalists on accusations of "being members of an armed terrorist organization," "founding or leading an armed terrorist organization," "knowingly and willingly helping [a terrorist] organization without being involved in the organization’s hierarchical structure," and "committing crimes in the name of a [terrorist] organization without being a member."
All but one of the journalists were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries up to 10 years in prison, according to the indictment.
CPJ found the indictment to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence in these cases 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.
The indictment accused the defendants of manipulating the public perception of FETÖ to turn citizens against the government, which prosecutors argued made them members of the group that Turkey alleges is behind the attempted coup.
Prosecutors used as evidence against Şanlı his work at a Gulenist outlet; social media activity; that he stayed at a Gülenist dormitory at college; and that he had the Bylock app on his phone. Turkish authorities say the messaging application is evidence of being a FETÖ member.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Şanlı and four of his co-accused to be detained for the duration of the trial, according to reports.
An Istanbul court on March 8, 2018, found Şanlı and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Şanlı 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 Şanlı, 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 Şanlı’s co-defendants were released on June 16 after their convictions were overturned by the Supreme Court of Appeals.
In response to a September 2018 poll of jailed journalists carried out by the P24 Independent Journalism Association, Şanlı said that he needed an operation but could not have it because conditions in the jail were not sterile and because he would not have anyone to care for him afterwards. Şanlı did not specify what medical issues he had in the poll.
Şanlı’s lawyer, Barış Topuk, said that in 2019, a court rejected a request for early release on health grounds for Şanlı, who has trouble breathing.
As of late 2019, Şanlı was being held in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison and is allowed visits from family and lawyers in prison, Topuk said.
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, Topuk, Şanlı’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 Topuk was among those arrested.
CPJ emailed a request for comment on Şanlı’s case to the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2020, but did not receive a reply.