A Turkish media worker, who has been jailed by Turkish government under the rule of autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for almost 16 months, faces three consecutive life sentences and additional 15 years in jail for providing technical service to a media outlet critical of the government.
Cuma Kaya, 42-year-old satellite uplink technician who set up his own company with his partners and provided services to media outlets, is being charged with the Turkey’s abusive anti-terrorism laws and coup plotting. His company has not been involved in any editorial policies and merely provided technical infrastructure but he stands accused of attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish government and the Turkish Parliament without any evidence to back up these charges.
Kaya has worked for years in Turkish media sector, working on technical infrastructure for media outlets. He and his colleagues set up a production company called FİA that offered live streaming, broadcasting and digital video content for news agencies, corporate brands and TV broadcasters. The company purchased some of the technical equipment from the Cihan news agency, which is Kaya’s former employer, that was downsizing due to the government pressure on the news agency. Some of the satellite trucks owned by Cihan was sold to FİA under a negotiated deal.
However, on March 7, 2016, Turkish government unlawfully seized both the Cihan news agency and FİA as part of the escalating crackdown on critical media outlets in Turkey. On May 22, 2016, Kaya was dismissed from his own company by the new board members that were assigned by the government after the seizure. He lost his company and became unemployed.
Police detained him on July 27, 2016, and he was formally arrested on August 5, 2016 over charges of being a member of a terror organization called FETÖ, a hoax terror organisation that was fabricated by the Erdoğan regime to defame civic Gülen movement. He was among 47 journalists including prominent columnists, writers and reporters against whom the government issued a sweeping detention orders right after a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2017.
In the indictment filed by public prosecutor İsmet Bozkurt 8 months after Kaya’s arrest, he was accused of establishing a private firm in line with the goals of a terror organization. His name was mentioned in the 64-page indictment only once with no criminal evidence presented to support government accusations. Instead, the prosecutor submitted duly signed business contract between FİA and Cihan as evidence of terrorism.
Kaya appeared before judges for the first time on September 18, 2017, fourteen months after he was formally arrested. He rejected all allegations in the indictment.
“I worked at FİA to earn living for my family,” he said, expressing his puzzlement over prosecutor arguments. “How does the prosecutor claim that FİA broadcasted in parallel with a terror organization despite it did not even have a website or any social media accounts?”
Kaya told the panel of judges that he was only a satellite technician and had nothing to do with the editorial policies of the companies he worked for.
Kaya’s colleague, another shareholder of FİA, Hakan Taşdelen, also appeared at the same hearing and told the court: “We took business risks and took on a huge debt by buying satellite trucks from Cihan. We are technicians. The best we do is to offer live broadcast to clients. The purchase was transparent and in full compliance with the laws.”
In concluding remarks, Kaya told the court that he had to work since his wife was jobless and kids were small. “I do not own a house and my family has to pay a rent and cover other living expenses. I demand my release on parole,” he noted. Yet, the court rejected his demand and ruled for the continuation of his arrest.
Kaya was born into a poor family in 1975 in Gaziantep, a southern province of Turkey. He had to work and study in his early ages. He sold bagels and polished shoes to finance his education expenses. Against all odds, he didn’t give up and got accepted to İstanbul’s prestigious Yıldız Technical University in 1996. He graduated from department of Electronics & Communications Engineering in 2000. He started his professional career as a technician at the satellite broadcast vehicles at Cihan news agency in 2002. He lived six months in Iraq to cover the 2nd Gulf War in 2003.
Kaya and his team made possible the broadcast of numerous breaking news for many media outlets and he was well respected by the industry that he had worked for 13 years. He covered clashes in battle zones, earthquakes, natural disasters, public meetings and press events. He travelled all around the world and across Turkey to link up journalists to live feeds for TV networks.
When he got married in 2006, he told his friends “The most beautiful days of my life has just started.” In 2008, the family had a firstborn, a daughter named Zeynep. The same year, baby Zeynep was born, he was promoted to be the chief of technicians in the company. Then the baby boy Mustafa Etka joined the family in 2013.
He lost his job in Cihan news agency in 2015 when the company had to lay off many people after pressure mounted on the company by the government. From his jail cell, he now looks for the day when he will reunite with his family.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 254 journalists and media workers are in jails as of October 30, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 journalists who live 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 President Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.
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.