“When even Sozcu Daily is accused of being a FETO affiliate”

Turkey’s most circulating Hurriyet Daily’s prominent columnist Sedat Ergin explicitly shared his fear of the extent of the witch hunt ongoing across the country.

On his recent column he pointed out what might be next if Sozcu Daily’s, voice of Kemalist opposition, veteran pens Emin Colasan and Necati Doğru are accused of supporting FETO, a term created by Turkey’s government after July 15 coup attempt to classify Gulen Movement. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of Fethullah Gülen, a self-exiled Turkish cleric in the U.S,  masterminding the coup attempt although the latter denies all accusations. Gulen himself called for an impartial international investigation to thoroughly examine the July 15 coup attempt.

Sedat Ergin, columnist and former Editor in Chief of Hürriyet Daily. (Photo: Yeni Şafak)

Here is the wide brief of Ergin’s column which appeared on Hurriyet Daily on December 18.

Istanbul chief public prosecutor’s office prepared a bill of indictment for liberal tabloid newspaper Sozcu Daily directors, Metin Yılmaz, Mustafa Çetin, and Yücel Arı, along with regular columnists, Emin Colasan, who is a famous leftist journalist in Turkey, and Necati Dogru, accusing them of supporting FETO.

The impact of this decision will not go away easily. An important result of this indictment will be that, along with the hearing of our fellow journalists at court houses, the whole process will put the spotlight on a lively discussion regarding the credibility of a fight against FETO in Turkey, in the eyes of the Turkish people.

Recently, certain individuals who were identified as FETO affiliates were acquitted through the judicial process, one by one. Meanwhile, journalists, who are known for their fight against the FETO organisation, are accused of being FETOists themselves, which shows a discriminatory stance by the judiciary.

This contradiction can be seen in the indictment for Sozcu Daily. For instance, Zaman is mentioned as the “official media outlet” of the organisation. One of the accusations against Sozcu is that the way they present their news pieces regarding the 17-25 investigations (the corruption probe conducted regarding AKP politicians and Erdogan’s family which was blamed on FETO), which “closely overlap” with the daily papers associated with the organisation. While Zaman Daily is being used to accuse other daily papers with the reason of “overlapping in style”, how can we explain the dismissal of the high-level officials of the daily paper?

We will not be able to write a detailed analysis of the indictment, however, we can say this as an observation: particularly the content of some investigation files, such as the banknotes found in shoe boxes, that came out after 17-25 December corruption probe (a probe conducted regarding AKP politicians and Erdogan’s inner circle which was blamed on Gulen Movement) and were available for the public, were published as news pieces by Sozcu Daily and this is the main point of accusation against the daily paper. The majority of these stories were voiced by opposition parties, while they were also published in the media, shared on social media, discussed extensively by the public and therefore, they were a trending topic for the whole country.

As we review this indictment, we have underlined a particular point that writers and administrators of Sozcu Daily are being accused of “intentionally assisting a terrorist organisation while not being part of its hierarchic structure”.  The prosecutor’s office attributes seventh paragraph of article no. 220’s of the Turkish Penal Code no. 5237 that states, “a person who knowingly and intentionally assists a terrorist organisation while not being part of its hierarchic structure is punished as a member of the organization.” Consequently, five to ten years of imprisonment is requested in accordance with the second paragraph of article 314 of the Turkish Penal Code, and in accordance with the anti-terror law’s article no. 5, it is requested that this term is “increased by half”.

A problem surfaces at this point. Back then, the Gulenist structure was not designated as a terrorist organisation by the judiciary. It was only in 2016 when Gulenists were indicted as terrorists by the Erzincan Criminal Court on 16 June 2016. The High Court’s penal department no. 16’s decision of designating FETO as a terrorist organisation in another file is dated 18 July 2016.

A universal principle of law is “not applying a legal decision retroactively.” The constitution clearly states in article no. 28 that “no one can be punished for an action that was not a crime at the time of its enactment.” Therefore, it is legally problematic to indict news pieces that were published in 2014-2015 with a high court judicial opinion that was shaped in 2016. The journalists were not aware of the existence of a terrorist organisation at the time.

Moreover, the 15 July coup attempt resulted in some AKP members expressing their regret after acknowledging that “Gulenists are terrorists,”  It does not seem fair to ignore what Sozcu had to endure.”

Many AKP affiliated figures who were frontrunners of Gulenist events acquitted themselves from being involved with “FETO” in the coup.

“The Sozcu indictment has the potential to harm the fight against FETO in all aspects. It is our concern that this indictment casts a shadow on the need to conduct the fight against FETO, a criminal organisation that posed a threat for Turkey, with a national consensus.” says Ergin on his column.


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