Turkish prosecutors revise charge against journalist Soncan over his ‘Gülen movement is not a terror organisation’ statement

Jailed journalist Emre Soncan was detained just after the controversial coup on July 15, 2016.

Turkish prosecutors have filed a new case against jailed journalist Emre Soncan (36) based on his statement that “the Gülen movement is not a terrorist organisation” during his defence before the court, accusing him of being “an executive of a terrorist organisation.”

The prosecutors have also drafted a new indictment for Soncan, who has been held in İstanbul’s notorious Silivri Prison for about 20 months. The file of Soncan, who had previously been accused of membership in an alleged “armed terrorist organisation” along with 29 other journalists, was separated from those of his colleagues just days before the court announced its verdict.

The presiding judge explained the reasoning behind the last minute separation of the files, saying: “A new case was filed against you. The current file has been combined with the new one. You are now going to be tried under your new case.”

Soncan has reportedly been charged with “establishing and managing a terrorist organisation” in the new indictment. His alleged use of the ByLock mobile phone messaging application was shown as evidence for the new charge. However, the previous indictment also included alleged use of ByLock as evidence for the other journalists who were tried in the same case.

Therefore, his lawyers said the use of ByLock, which was allegedly downloaded by Soncan to his mobile phone, could have  easily been added as new evidence for the list of charges in the current case. Saying that the trial could have been finished just by adding this additional charge, they underlined that there is no need for a new case and a new indictment.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Underlining that the decision to separate the files and open a new case against Soncan is legally unconventional, his lawyers said this move shows that Soncan has been discriminated against by the Turkish judiciary. It is widely believed that Soncan is being tried again to secure a heavier sentence since he stated that “I do not see the Gülen movement as a terror organisation” during his defence before the court, in response to a question from the judge. In the new case, prosecutors will be demanding a sentence of between 10 and 15 years in prison.

Soncan, who was born in 1982 in Bursa province, used to be the presidency and defense correspondent for the Zaman daily, which was seized by the Turkish government on March 4, 2016 and subsequently closed by a government decree (KHK) in July 2016 under a state of emergency declared in the aftermath of the controversial coup attempt in July 2016.

Journalist Soncan, who was detained 10 days after the coup bid, was arrested by a court on July 29, 2016 along with 21 other journalists who were detained as part of the same investigation. Later, the number of journalists who were arrested as part of the probe rose to 27. Also, two of the journalists investigated in the same case are still at large. Therefore, their files were also separated from those of the other journalists long before the verdict phase of the trial.

The indictment was prepared for 29 journalists in March 2017. The İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court announced its verdict after the last hearings on March 7-8, 2018. Only one journalist was acquitted by the court, while the remaining 25 journalists were given prison sentences ranging from two years, one month to seven years, six months. As his file was separated from the case, the court did not hand down a verdict to Soncan.

The new indictment for Soncan, which was prepared by prosecutors on Feb. 5, 2018, was accepted by the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court. Soncan has been accused in the new indictment of downloading the ByLock application to a mobile phone belonging to his relative M.K. There are no other accusations in the new indictment, but due solely to this he faces the charge of “establishing and managing a terrorist organisation.”

Soncan had said that “I do not see the Gülen movement as a terrorist organisation” during the trial’s first hearing on March 29, 2017. He had made this statement because he was accused of sharing a message on Twitter after the the coup attempt on July 15. Soncan had posted a message saying, “I do not know if I will be taken into custody for posting this tweet, but I do not think it’s reasonable to claim that Gülen movement is behind this lowly junta.”

“Do you consider FETÖ a terrorist organisation?” the presiding judge asked Soncan during the first hearing. Soncan gave the following response:

“It is clear that Mr. Prosecutor has forgotten to put the before and after of this tweet in his indictment. However, I had clearly emphasized that I was against the coup d’etat in both the previous and the following messages, and I said it is a democratic duty to stand with the elected government against any intervention. Even as people both in power and in the opposition remained silent since they were waiting to see which side was wining, I had expressed very clearly and openly that I was on the side of democracy while the military coup was still going on. My lawyer will convey these messages to your court.

“Let’s get to the content of my tweet [cited in the indictment]. I believe foreign intelligence services were behind this junta, which led to the death of 248 of our citizens at a time when the map of the Middle East has been redrawn for the sake of changing Ankara’s axis and pushing it into a certain block.

“Based on this paradigm that I constructed in light of my open-source reading before and during my arrest and based on my past experience, I do not see the Gülen movement as a terrorist organisation. I am aware that what I am now saying may negatively affect any decision to be made about me in this extraordinary process we are going through. But a free journalist cannot keep the truths in which he believes just for himself. He is obliged to share his analysis regardless of the circumstances.”

It is still unclear when Soncan will have his first hearing since the trial process will be starting from the beginning.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen 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 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 other civil servants since July 2016. Turkey’s interior minister announced on December 12, 2017 that 55,665 people have been arrested. On December 13, the Justice Ministry announced that 169,013 people have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

A total of 48,305 people were arrested by courts across Turkey in 2017 over their alleged links to the Gülen movement, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said on Dec. 2, 2017. “The number of detentions is nearly three times higher,” Soylu told a security meeting in İstanbul and claimed that “even these figures are not enough to reveal the severity of the issue.”

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