Gunman, 9 others convicted in murder trial of Turkish journalist

A Turkish court on Monday handed down prison sentences including aggravated life to 10 people who were tried in connection to the murder of a local journalist in northwestern Turkey last year, Turkish Minute reported, citing the DHA news agency.

Journalist Güngör Arslan, who owned local news website Ses Kocaeli, was attacked by a gunman at his office in İzmit in Kocaeli province in February 2022. The journalist, who was critically injured, subsequently succumbed to his injuries. Arslan was targeted after writing extensively about alleged corruption in the İzmit Municipality.

There were 14 defendants, six of them in pre-trial detention, who stood trial in connection with the murder.

At the last hearing of the trial, the Kocaeli 1st High Criminal Court handed down an aggravated life sentence to the gunman, Ramazan Özkan, on charges of premeditated murder and an additional seven years and a fine of 40,000 lira ($2,131) for carrying an unlicensed firearm.

In his final defense on Monday, Özkan denied having planned the murder, claiming that he took his gun with him as a precaution. He said he had never thought about killing the journalist and was surprised to learn of his death when he was in police custody, adding that he regrets the murder.

In his first statement to the police following his detention, Özkan had said he killed the journalist because he did not like the views in one of his articles, without elaborating.

Another defendant, Burhan Polat, was also given an aggravated life sentence on charges of instigating the murder, while another defendant, Ersin Kurt, who faced the same charge, has been acquitted.  Arslan’s daughter, Nazlıcan Arslan, reacted to Kurt’s acquittal on Twitter with disappointment, saying that her “struggle will not end.”

The court handed down to 27-year sentences to the two other defendants, Ferhat Yıldırım and Hasan Emre Çelik, who were both convicted of assisting in a premeditated murder and carrying unlicensed firearms.

Defendant Ramiz Saatçi was acquitted of the charge of assisting in the murder but was convicted of illegally selling firearms and received a sentence of seven years and a fine of 40,000 lira. The court also convicted Özgür Taşkıran and Can Yıldırım of assisting a criminal and sentenced Taşkıran to more than three years in prison, and Yıldırım to two years, six months, DHA reported.

The court found three other defendants, Erdal Tilki, Yadigar Başyurt and Erdal Yıldırım, guilty of attempting to destroy or alter criminal evidence and sentenced them each to more than two years in prison.

The court acquitted the other defendants in the trial of the charges leveled against them.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement on Monday, welcoming the convictions in the murder trial and its swift conclusion.

“Turkish authorities should be applauded for their swift action in the trial of the murder of journalist Güngör Arslan,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “While these convictions can provide a measure of peace to Arslan’s family, authorities should not let up their efforts, and should ensure that every person involved in the journalist’s killing is brought to justice.”

Arslan’s murder led to outrage among press organizations in Turkey, where journalists are frequently subjected to physical attacks and legal harassment due to their work. The press organizations called on the government to investigate Arslan’s murder and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Turkey, which is one of the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index, released in May.

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