Onur Emre Yağan - “Insulting the President in Successive Intervals” Trial

An investigation was launched against journalist Onur Emre Yağan, while he was working as the editor-in-charge of İleri News website, by Tunnel Mazgirt Province Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

It was claimed that the investigation against Yağan was launched after a denunciation. The denunciation claimed that “criminal factors were found in Yağan’s social media posts”.

Mazgirt Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office reached a decision of rejection of venue. Case files were sent to Istanbul Anatolian Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Press Related Crimes Investigation Bureau of Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s office launched an investigation against Yağan.

Yağan, was, through his social media posts, accused of “publicly insulting the President”.

According to the indictment, Yağan, in the statement he gave during the investigation, stated thatİ He was working as editor-in-chief and columnist at İleri Haber news site, however, the subject matter publications were not made by him. He said posts were made by several people and he did not have a chance to constantly track the posts. He denied the charges.

According to the Turkish Penal Code, in order to open a lawsuit against an individual for the accusation of “insulting the President”, a permission from the Ministry of Justice is required. Necessary ministerial permission to open a case against Yağan was granted on May 29, 2019.

The indictment against journalist Onur Emre Yağan was completed by Istanbul Anatolian Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on September 4, 2019. President Tayyip Erdoğan was the “complainant” of the indictment.

The indictment accused Yağan for social media posts published from İleri News website, where he worked as the editor-in-chief. 4 tweets, two from 2014 and 2 from 2015, were lined in the indictment as follows:

  • “Cemil Bayık: Erdoğan is ISIS’ khalifa.”
  • “Can Soyer writes: compulsorily dictator.”
  • “Cemil Bayık speaks to Cumhuriyet: Erdoğan is a dictator, Fidan has a hand in it.”
  • “Universities are on alert for words ‘thief’ and ‘murderer’: As soon as they hear it, they know it is Erdoğan.”

The indictment claimed that Yağan’s posts were made “with the intent of defamation of the President”. It was claimed that “posts had crossed the limits of freedoms of thought and expression and turned into insults”.

The indictment accused Yağan of “insulting the President” according to the article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code. He was requested to be sentenced to from one year to four years of imprisonment. However the indictment claimed that he had committed the crime of “insulting the President”, “publicly”. Therefore the requested sentence was requested to be increased by a sixth, according to the second paragraph of the article 299 of the Turkish Penal Code. Yağan was requested to be sentenced to, from one year two months to four years eight months of imprisonment. Again the indictment claimed that he had committed the crime of “publicly insulting the President”, “in a successive manner”. Therefore the requested sentence against Yağan was this time requested to be increased by, from a quarter to three quarters, according to the article 43 of the Turkish Penal Code. Yağan, in total, was requested to be sentenced to, from one year five months 15 days to eight years eight two of imprisonment.

Trial of journalist Onur Emre Yağan was set to start with the first hearing at Istanbul Anatolian 53rd Assize Court on March 26, 2020. However the hearing was postponed, due to the measures taken against the coronavirus pandemic.

The second hearing was held on September 10th, 2020. The judge did not allow observers to the courtroom due to measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

With the onset of the Court Year 2020-2021, a previously lifted practice has been reintroduced. Accordingly, prosecutors can once again participate in hearings at the criminal courts of first instance. Their presence in these hearings had been ended in 2011. So a prosecutor attended Yağan’s hearing as well.

It was stated that President Tayyip Erdoğan had filed a petition with the court, stating that he withdrew his complaint against Yağan. The petition was submitted to the court five days prior to the hearing. The petition made a reference to President Tayyip Erdoğan’s following statement just before the coup attempt on July 15th, 2016: “For only once, I forgive those who have disrespected and insulted me so far, and withdraw my complaints.” The petition read as follows:

“Mr. President withdraws his complaint in this case with the hope that our nation may find a common ground, strengthen its unity and solidarity, and enjoy a certain level of politeness in our political life.”

Yağan submitted his first defense statement at this hearing. He indicated that he had submitted his defense statement in writing. He rejected the charges. He stated that he did not work at the “İleri Haber” news website at the time the posts in question were published.

Yağan said, “I consider that this lawsuit constitutes an assault against the freedom of press” and requested his acquittal. He also stated that he would accept the deferment of a possible prison sentence. He refused to perform “community service for free” in case he received a prison sentence. He added that he would accept if the complaint against him were withdrawn.

The judge gave Yağan’s lawyers time for drafting the defense.

The third hearing of the trial was held on October 22nd, 2020. The president of the court had changed. He did not allow observers to the courtroom owing to measures against the coronavirus pandemic. The journalist Onur Emre Yağan did not attend the hearing. Yağan was represented at the hearing by his lawyer Melike Öztürk.

The hearing prosecutor announced his judicial opinion as to the accusations, where he claimed that “the posts in question breached the limits of the freedoms of thought and expression”. He argued that “there was no clear-cut evidence as to who had published the posts”. He requested that, in line with the indictment, Yağan be sentenced on the charge of “publicly insulting the President in a continuous manner”.

The court gave Yağan and his lawyer additional time to draft their defense against the judicial opinion as to the accusations.

The fourth hearing took place on November 5th, 2020. The president of the court had not changed. Yağan participated in the hearing alongside his lawyer Şerif Özgür Urfa.

The president of the court did not allow observers to the courtroom due to measures against the coronavirus pandemic.

Journalist Yağan indicated the following in his defense speech: “In 2017, I started to work as managing editor and editor-in-chief in the online newspaper in question. I left the newspaper in 2018. The posts in question were published in 2014, not during the period I worked there. Therefore, I demand my acquittal. Furthermore, I was not even in Turkey at the time the said posts were published.”

Yağan’s lawyer, Urfa, stated that the posts fell within the scope of the freedom of press and expression. He added that the posts were not written by Yağan himself, but consisted of links to articles by various columnists. He stated that it was not understandable for Yağan to be put on trial even though no investigation was launched against the columnists themselves.

Urfa indicated, “The expression ‘dictator’ presented as an offense in this case is not an insult and falls within the scope of the freedom of thought and expression according to the rulings by European Court of Human Rights, Constitutional Court and Court of Cassation”. He requested that Yağan be acquitted of the charges.

The court sentenced Yağan to one year in prison for “insulting the President” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 299/1.

However, the court also ruled that the offense of “insulting the President” was “committed in public” and thus increased the prison sentence by one sixth as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 299/2, to one year two months.

Furthermore, the court ruled that the offense was committed “in a continuous manner”, thus increasing the sentence by another one fourth as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 43, to one year, five months, 15 days.

The sentence was then reduced by one sixth in consideration of its possible effects on Yağan’s future.

In consequence, Yağan was handed down a sentence of one year, two months and 17 days for “publicly insulting the President in a continuous manner”.

As such Onur Emre Yağan, put on trial upon a complain by the President, was sentenced to prison although the latter had withdrawn his complaint.

The prison sentence corresponded to the lower limit indicated in the Turkish Penal Code.

The court ruled to defer the announcement of the verdict.



Onur Emre Yağan

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