Sabah, Millet | Imprisoned in Turkey | August 31, 2016

Medium:Internet, Print
Beats Covered:Business, Corruption, Crime, Culture, Human Rights, Politics, Sports, War
Local or Foreign:Local
Charge:Anti-state, False News
Length of Sentence:Not Sentenced
Reported Health Problems:No

Police detained Çölgeçen, former news coordinator for the shuttered daily newspaper Millet, in Istanbul on August 31, 2016. Istanbul First Court of Penal Peace ordered the journalist jailed pending trial on September 2, 2016.

According to records of his arraignment hearing, which CPJ has reviewed, when asked about his work for Millet, the journalist told the court that he had worked as a journalist since 1994 at various newspapers and television channels before joining Millet in September 2014 as the news coordinator. He told the court he quit the newspaper on August 21, 2015, following an argument he had with a colleague, and that he had been unemployed since.

The journalist denied that he was a follower of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" in Turkey (FETÖ/PDY, by its Turkish acronym) and of masterminding a July 15, 2016, failed military coup. Çölgeçen denied having any connection to the failed military coup.

The court ordered him jailed based on its "strong suspicion" that Çölgeçen "willingly and knowingly helped the organization."

Millet was one of several media outlets owned by the Koza İpek Group, which the government took over in October 2015, alleging it had links to FETÖ/PDY. Trustees appointed by the government hollowed out media outlets the company owned and shut them down in March 2016, saying they were not financially viable.

Çölgeçen is on trial with several other journalists arrested after the attempted coup. All but one of them were charged with "being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization," which carries up to 10 years in prison, according to the indictment.

CPJ found the indictment to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence in these cases journalistic activity or acts of free speech and communication, or cited circumstantial evidence such as being employed by a certain media outlet or having an account at a bank allegedly linked to Gulenists.

The indictment accused the defendants of manipulating the public perception of FETÖ to turn citizens against the government, which prosecutors argued made them members of the group that Turkey alleges is behind the attempted coup.

Prosecutors presented as evidence against Çölgeçen his employment at Millet, his appearance as a guest on a TV debate on alleged government corruption, and his social media activity. Prosecutors accused Çölgeçen of producing false news about prominent cases – including the alleged Ergenekon and Sledgehammer plots to destabilize the government – while he was working at pro-government media outlets, including the daily Sabah. At that time those cases were reported, the Gülenists and the government were allies.

When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Çölgeçen and four of his co-accused to be detained for the duration of the trial, according to news reports.

Çölgeçen was being held in Silviri prison in Istanbul.

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