A senior legislative reporter who covered Turkey’s main opposition party for years have been behind bars for 442 days in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison over tweet messages that the government considered as acts of terrorism.
Among the evidence purportedly cited as proof of crime and terrorism by the government includes lines from the 13th Century poet Mawlana Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi who talked about a divine love. In a more bizarre twist, the prosecutor also included anti-coup messages written by the reporter on Twitter as an evidence of crime as well.
Habib Güler, 39-year old reporter of Kurdish descent, have extensively written on the work of the Turkish Parliament for Zaman, Turkey’s one-time largest daily before the government unlawfully seized it on March 2016. He had published exclusive scoops while covering the main opposition Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP) as well as the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Güler’s passion in the journalism has roots from his college years when he attended journalism school in Selçuk University in central province Konya. He started working as a local reported in the same province when he got graduated from the university. When he stood out with his work, his editors at Zaman assigned him to the bureau in Turkish capital Ankara. That is when he started chasing after political parties, following campaign trails and interviewing senior political leaders. He made a name for himself as political reporter when he was assigned exclusively in covering the CHP.
When the government took over his paper in March 2016, he was covering the pro-Kurdish HDP. He was among that were fired immediately because of his years of covering the opposition parties. He continued working for a national daily Yarına Bakış that was launched by journalists who were dismissed from Zaman after the government takeover. That daily was shut down after the failed coup bid of July 15, 2016, leaving Güler unemployed for the second time in four months.
His saga is far from over though. His home in Ankara was raided by police on July 25, 2016 and detained on the spot. It was part of the largest detention sweep targeting independent and critical journalists as the government issued detention orders for 42 journalists in a single day. Four days later he was formally arrested on farcical terror charges and placed in the Silivri Prison. He had to languish behind bars for seven months to learn what the charges are and what evidence the government has against him when Turkish prosecutor Murat Çağlak finally filed the indictment with the court.
He was basically accused of reporting about the opposition parties even after his dismissal from the Zaman newspaper and that was enough for him to be charged as ‘terrorist.’ He is facing possible up to 15 years jail time if he got convicted. The physical criminal evidence collected from his home during the raid included a photo album of the main opposition party CHP lawmakers who were elected to represent their constituencies in Turkish Parliament. Another evidence listed by the prosecutor is a 59-page document showing Güler’s working hours at the newspaper which was part of a dossier the journalist prepared to file a civil lawsuit against the government trustees who dismissed him without a compensation and severance payments.
His laptop, mobile phone, voice recorder and flash drives were also included into evidence against him. Two books authored by Fethullah Gülen, a Turkish Islamic scholar who is major critic of Turkish autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, were found in his library and classified as criminal evidence. A book written by investigative journalist Mehmet Baransu, another jailed journalist, was also found in the bookshelf and prosecutor listed the possession of that book as evidence of terror.
Perhaps then most absurd evidence is the inclusion of journalist’s messages on microblogging web site Twitter by the prosecutor. For example, a tweet message in 2015 that referred teachings of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad or Rumi, a poet and Sufi master, at the anniversary of his death, reads “Today is the ultimate union day. Şeb-i Aruz (or night of union) time. Rumi met his Lord at this day. Everyone is to be best remembered with his lover on every #December17.”
The prosecutor interpreted the message of Rumi as criticism of the government because the date coincided with Turkey’s biggest corruption investigation dated on December 17, 2013. The graft probe incriminated key government ministers and members of the Erdoğan family in taking bribes from Iranian gold dealer who violated sanction regime on Iran.
Another Tweet message, written by Güler on the anniversary of the May 27, 1960 military coup that ousted the elected government in Turkey. The journalist wrote that “At the 56th anniversary of the 27 May coup, we condemn all putschists, oppressors and those who pervert the course of justice and go corrupt.”
It was a fierce criticism of coup plotters yet the prosecutor included this as evidence of crime while accusing the journalist for supporting the coup bid of July 15, 2016. Güler’s tweet posted one day after the coup attempt in 2016 reads “It is a matter of honor for the Parliament to clarify the coup attempt and bring traitors to the account. An investigation commission must be set up [with in the parliament] and facts should be revealed.”
That message was also claimed to be an evidence of terrorism and coup plotting. His tweet after he was fired by the government caretakers in Zaman on April 30, 2016, was cited in the indictment as well. “Today I was dismissed from unlawfully seized Zaman daily in which I have worked almost 20 years”
Güler appeared in the court for the first time on March 25, 2007 after spending nine months in pre-trial detention. In his testimony, he told judges that he was arrested even though there were no evidence against him. Stressing that he has been a journalist with integrity and credibility, the senior journalist underlined that none of his news articles were ever refuted in his career.
“I joined rallies defaming July 15 coup attempt. My twitter messages appeared in the indictment actually defend democracy, law and freedom. Even my post that suggests journalist should be tried without pre-trial detention is submitted as an evidence in the indictment. I did only journalism” said Güler.
Güler also objected the wording of the indictment apart from the credibility of the evidences: “Prosecutor claims a vast number of books found at my home. The number is only two. Two never means “a vast number” in any language”
To the surprise of many, the court decided to release 21 journalists including Güler at the completion of first hearings. The moment after the court’s decision was announced, pro-government journalists including ones from Aydın Doğan’s media outlet Hürriyet, Erdoğanist trolls and figures in social media kicked off a campaign questioning the journalists’ release.
All of a sudden, a new detention orders issued and 13 journalists were taken to the police station from the prison cell in a new cycle of processing that led them back to prison again with newly added charges. Another 8 journalists including Güler who were ordered to be released were re-arrested after the prosecutor challenged the release order and the judge issued a new arrest warrant within hours without even examining their cases and hearing the defendants’ arguments.
A few days later three judges who decided to release 21 jailed journalists were suspended by the Turkey’s judicial council the Board of Judges and Prosecutors (HSK).
Güler, married with two children, is known for his optimism and dynamism by his colleagues. Yet he now awaits the conclusion of hearings with not much hope of acquittal on fabricated charges given the suspension of the rule of law and subordination of the judiciary to whims and emotions to one-man Erdogan regime.
He recently told a group of visiting CHP deputies, his contacts from the days he covered then CHP as a reporter, in June 2017 that he was under total isolation in the prison. Güler is prevented talking to colleagues in prison, sporting and sending and receiving letters. Impediments in accessing to the health care for him continues. “You submit a petition for immediate medical attention. You get response one week later,” Güler told CHP lawmakers.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 280 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of October 8, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 255 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 134 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.
Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempt on July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.
Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.