A Nordic Monitor investigation has revealed how a smear campaign targeting prominent Turkish journalist Nazli Ilıcak, who is critical of the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, was orchestrated by partisan prosecutor Murat Çağlak.
While the prosecutor ordered her arrest as part of a counterterrorism investigation that led to Ilıcak’s unjust conviction and sentencing to life in prison, the Sabah daily, owned by Erdoğan’s family, ran a series of defamatory articles about her to portray her as a criminal in the eyes of the public.
According to confidential documents obtained by Nordic Monitor, Ilıcak was vacationing at her summer home in Turkey’s western resort town of Bodrum when the Istanbul prosecutor issued a detention warrant for her along with 41 other journalists on July 25, 2016. The police went to her residence in Istanbul at dawn to detain her, but she was not there. Instead they executed search and seizure warrants and confiscated 724 of the journalist’s personal items, mostly books and hundreds of recordings of her appearances on TV programs as she has been a popular commentator for decades.
She was not fleeing at all, yet the pro-Erdoğan media, tipped off by the prosecutor, ran a spin story about her being a fugitive and made up a report about the journalist’s escape plans. When the police went to her home in Istanbul to detain her and execute the search warrant, the police did not find her as expected and called prosecutor Ismail Uçar, who said the warrant must also be executed on her summer home in Bodrum. In the meantime, the fake story of her being on the run like a killer was continuously run by Erdoğan’s media propaganda machine.
The official documents that detail the circumstances of her detention tell a completely different story, however. The police intelligence report revealed that the authorities knew she had two houses before the raid, one in Istanbul and the other in Bodrum. They also knew she spent July at the summer home, yet the plan was to create the perception that she was guilty and could not be located.
In the meantime, when the news about the warrant for her was covered by the networks and reached her in Bodrum, Ilıcak decided to report to the local police station and inquire about the news early the next day. On her way downtown on July 26, her car was stopped by the police at a checkpoint, and she was detained before she made to the police station. The police report, filed at the checkpoint where she was detained at 08:00, states that the detention was normal and that there was nothing out of the ordinary. She was read her rights, and she signed the detention warrant on the spot, meaning that she understood her rights.
What is more, the processing document produced by the police revealed what she possessed at the time of her detention, and it did not suggest that she was on the run. Ilıcak, who suffers from various medical conditions at the age of 75, was carrying some dozen medications and vitamins in her purse, the document that was signed at 18:48 hours showed. She also had TL 685 (about $228 at the exchange rate in effect at the time) on her person, suggesting that she had no plans to try to escape. Otherwise, she would have been carrying a large amount of cash for travel and accommodations. Ilıcak, who survived the military coup era of the 1980s, had nothing to fear and no reason to hide.
She was processed at the local police station upon the order of Muğla public prosecutor Sümeyra Çetin and sent to Istanbul on a flight at around 16:40 to report to Istanbul prosecutor Çağlak, who had issued the detention warrant for her. Police also seized a notepad at the summer home and listed it as criminal evidence against her in the case. The 38-page notepad shows she wrote talking points that she would raise in her TV commentaries or use in her newspaper articles. Most were related to current affairs and her contacts with journalists and sources — nothing incriminating.
In Istanbul, Ilıcak was charged under counterterrorism laws, yet she was processed by the homicide unit of the police station, which was a bizarre twist in the case. Her crime was listed as having been committed on July 15, 2016, suggesting that she had something to do with a failed coup on that date when she actually had nothing to do with it. But the false flag coup attempt was a perfect pretext for the Erdoğan regime to arrest and prosecute hundreds of journalists who were critical of the government.
She was fingerprinted, had her mugshot taken and was interrogated by the police. It was not until 21:22 when police wrapped up the interrogation and her lawyer Muhammed Emin Özkurt signed the police statement.
The fake story about her being a fugitive was also used against her by the partisan prosecutor during the arraignment, and she was considered to be a flight risk by the judge, despite the fact that she had turned herself in. Later, her lawyers even submitted documentation of her cancelled vacation plans in Greece where she planned to stay at Hotel Nireus, located on the Greek island of Symi, between July 22 and 25, 2016 but which she decided to cancel after the July 15 failed coup. She would not have done so if she had any intention of crossing to the Greek island off the coast of Bodrum, where her family kept a yacht. Lawyers raised that in the courtroom when she asked for her release pending trial, but Erdoğan was determined to keep her locked up to send a message to other critics.
Ilıcak’s case shows how the rule of law has ceased to exist in Turkey and how prosecutors, judges and police were turned into political operatives bent on cracking down on critical journalists. Her lawyers filed motions practically every month for her release pending trial, but the authorities rejected each and every petition. The case against her was finally wrapped up in February 2018, when she was convicted and sentenced to aggravated life, without the possibility of parole, on totally fabricated terrorism charges.
Ilıcak also faces another trial in a case that was opened against her due to an article she wrote in 2015 titled “Military intelligence and Tahşiyeciler,” about a Turkish al-Qaeda-affiliated group. The journalist is accused of publishing a secret document about Tahşiyeciler from the records of the General Staff in the Bugün daily on Jan. 2, 2015. Ilıcak faces a life sentence for espionage in this case, although she received the same punishment in the earlier trial. In her defense at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court, Ilıcak said many people used to send documents to her Twitter account because she is a journalist and that the document in question was sent to that account.