Vahit Yazgan worked as a journalist for about 25 years. He served as the Aegean Regional Representative for the Zaman newspaper.
Before the coup attempt of 15 July 2016, a state administrator was appointed to the Zaman newspaper by a court decision. The newspaper was closed through a Statutory Decree (KHK) issued under the State of Emergency (OHAL) declared following the coup attempt. State administrators (kayyım) had already been appointed to many media outlets by court decisions before 15 July 2016. Following the coup attempt, the government shut down many media outlets by statutory decrees that were issued without the parliament’s approval.
After the coup attempt, Yazgan was detained in Izmir on 8 August on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. The custody procedures lasted for 17 days. He was remanded in custody on 25 August 2016 on the same charges. He was taken to Izmir No.1 Type F Closed Prison.
The indictment stated that Yazgan had worked as a manager in the now-closed Zaman newspaper for 25 years. Yazgan was charged with “founding or commanding an armed terrorist organisation”. The prosecution demanded that Yazgan be sentenced to imprisonment of between 15 years and 22 years.
Yazgan was charged with “founding or commanding an armed terrorist organisation” throughout the trial process. However, he was sentenced to imprisonment of between eight years and nine months on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” at the end of the trial process on 28 February 2018.
The 2nd Penal Department of the Izmir Circuit Courts of Appeal, which conducted the appeals process, approved Yazgan’s prison sentence with its decision on 18 July 2018.
The Constitutional Court rejected the application Yazgan filed before his trial concerning the violation of his rights with its decision on 15 November 2018, given after the imprisonment sentence concerning him was approved by the court of appeals.
The 16th Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation approved the decision of the local court on 26 March 2019. Thus, the imprisonment sentence of eight years and nine months was finalised.
After the finalisation, Yazgan once more appealed to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court has not yet ruled on the second appeal.
Yazgan’s appeal to the European Court of Human Rights is likewise pending a decision.
Yazgan has been serving his prison sentence in Izmir No.1 F Type Closed Prison since August 2016.
The Republic of Turkey held the structure known as the Fethullah Gülen Congregation responsible for the military coup attempt of 15 July 2016. On 20 July 2016, the National Security Council determined that the military coup attempt “was initiated by FETÖ through its members within the Turkish Armed Forces”.
The structure, which was stated to have secretly organised within government agencies for years, was first described as a “terrorist organisation” by a court in 2014, and later in the recommendations of the National Security Council of 27 May 2016. The National Security Council, which formerly described the structure as an “illegal parallel structure”, named it the “Fethullah Terrorist Organisation and Parallel State Structure – FETÖ-PDY” in its July memorandum.
Following the attempted coup, investigations and trials were launched and orders for arrest and detention were issued for many individuals who were claimed to be “affiliated” with this structure. As part of these investigations, a large number of journalists and writers were placed in custody and/or detained in many provinces of Turkey due to allegations of “membership of Fethullah Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ)” and “knowingly or willingly aiding the organisation despite not being a member of FETÖ”. Investigations and prosecutions were carried out during the State of Emergency (OHAL) declared soon after the attempted coup.
Zaman newspaper, Samanyolu TV, Cihan News Agency and many other newspapers, television and radio channels and internet news portals were shut down on similar allegations by Statutory Decrees (KHK) that were put into effect without parliament’s approval.
The investigation began over an anonymous, unsigned and single-page report to the authorities sent to the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Izmir. The letter asserted that Yazgan was “one of the FETÖ/PDY managers in Izmir”.
In the statement he gave at the Izmir Provincial Directorate of Security Department of Organised Crimes Yazgan stated that he started out as a journalist at the Zaman newspaper in 1991 and worked there until a state administrator was appointed to the newspaper in 2016. Stating that the anonymous, unsigned and single-page report to the authorities that led to the investigation was “slander”, he said that he also filed a criminal complaint against the person who sent the letter. He also stated that on the evening of 15 July 2016, he had shared the message “May Allah damn whoever’s behind it” to condemn the coup on his social media account and said “I have no connection whatsoever with this organisation”.
The custody procedures lasted for 17 days. He was brought before the court on 25 August 2016. After his questioning at the prosecutor’s office, he was brought before the court for detention. After the court interrogation, he was remanded on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” the same day. He was taken to Izmir No.1 Type F Closed Prison.
He spent eight months and nine days in prison awaiting the indictment concerning him to be completed.
The indictment concerning Vahit Yazgan, the Aegean Regional Representative for the now-closed Zaman newspaper, was completed by the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office of Izmir on 4 May 2017.
Similar to many other indictments prepared for individuals who were allegedly “affiliated with FETÖ”, this indictment also included a list of allegations for approximately six pages such as “FETÖ’s establishment, its purpose, methods and strategy, hierarchic structure, intelligence network, financial structure and sources of income, armed strength” as well as “the FETÖ’s organisation in the media and the effects of the media on criminal investigations”.
The indictment also included the report to the authorities that led to the investigation on Yazgan.
The report to the authorities was found to refer to many people claimed to be affiliated with the organisation as baba (father). It asserted that Yazgan had connections with these “fathers”. Notably, the letter ended with the expression “May God be with you and aid you my dear prosecutor. I kiss your hand”.
In the court decisions, it was asserted that Yazgan had used the ByLock application, and had an active account with Bank Asya which were “cited as evidence of the charge of ‘FETÖ affiliation’”. The indictment asserted that Fethullah Gülen called for support after an investigation was launched against Bank Asya and there were activities in Yazgan’s account after the call.
It was asserted that Yazgan’s mobile phone had been active at the same location as those of other individuals who were on trial with on charges of “FETÖ affiliation”. It was stated that Yazgan and these people “may have conducted an organisational meeting”.
The fact that Yazgan “had his child enrolled in a private school which was closed down due on allegations of being an offshoot of the organisation” was cited as evidence.
Based on a witness testimony against Yazgan, it was asserted that “[Yazgan] intervened on behalf of FETÖ in appointments made at the level of the Izmir Provincial Directorate of Security”. In addition, it was asserted that he had intervened in the political party Büyük Birlik Partisi (Great Unity Party - BBP) management even though he was not a member.
The indictment charged Yazgan with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in accordance with Article 314/1 of the Turkish Penal Code and Article 5 of the Law on Anti-Terrorism. The prosecution demanded that Yazgan be sentenced to imprisonment of between 15 years and 22 years and six months. It was also demanded that Yazgan “be deprived of certain rights” in accordance with Article 53 of the Turkish Penal Code.
The indictment concerning Yazgan was accepted by the Izmir 14th High Criminal Court.
The trial concerning Vahit Yazgan, the Aegean Regional Representative for the now-closed Zaman newspaper, started with the first hearing held at the Izmir 14th High Criminal Court on 1 June 2017. Yazgan had been in prison for longer than nine months when he first appeared in court.
Yazgan stated that the allegations against him were unrealistic. He said that “he could not see the answers to the questions what, where, when, why and who”. He stated that he was one of the first people to curse the coup attempt on the night of 15 July 2016.
He stated that his position at Zaman newspaper as the publication’s [regional] representative was symbolic and did not involve any administrative duties and that his relations with the newspaper had consisted simply of work, labour and earning a livelihood. He said: “I am a journalist who earns his livelihood intellectually.” He stated that he was not for any congregation, religious order, the [political] right or the left. He said “I am a human first, then an intellectual”. He stated that he was “a journalist who had dedicated his life to democracy” and “he had covered numerous anti-coup reports”. The court ruled that Yazgan be remanded in custody.
The second hearing of the trial took place on 7 September 2017. Against the claim that his mobile phone signals overlapped with the mobile phone signals of some other people who were also on trial, Yazgan stated the following: “I am a journalist. As part of my profession, I go to all sorts of places and the signals my phone receives from cell towers may overlap with anyone’s. I may even meet these people as part of my profession.”
Yazgan stated that Bank Asya, the Yamanlar College which his child attended, and the Zaman newspaper where he worked, were all organisations permitted by the state; there were no judicial decisions to the effect that these were illegal, and that the legal status of a legal organisation could not be changed retroactively.
Yazgan said that he had only reported accurate news and had even been appreciated by statespeople for this reason. The court ruled that Yazgan be remanded in custody.
The third hearing of the trial took place on 15 February 2018. In his defensive statement, Yazgan stated that he had used the ByLock application, but not upon instruction and any organisational purpose. He stated the following: “I thought of it as an application similar to the application WhatsApp, therefore did not see any harm in it. I used this application for messaging and news bulletins, I received and sent texts. I do not know if it is banned or objectionable.”
At this hearing, the prosecution presented the opinion of the prosecution as to the accusations. Yazgan, who had been charged with “founding or commanding an armed terrorist organisation” throughout the trial, was charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” in the opinion of the prosecution. However, the evidence cited against him in the opinion of the prosecution and the evidence cited in the indictment were similar in content. There was no explanation in the opinion of the prosecution regarding why the accusations had been changed. While the indictment had demanded Yazgan be sentenced to imprisonment of between 15 years and 22 years, the opinion of the prosecution demanded imprisonment of between seven years and six months and 15 years.
The fourth and final hearing of the trial took place on 28 February 2018. Yazgan stated that he made mistakes in the past and regretted them. He said: “I think I particularly made mistakes regarding Bank Asya and Bylock, and in continuing to work at Zaman newspaper after 17-25 December”.
On 17 and 25 December 2013, investigations were launched against several people, including high-level politicians and their families, for alleged “corruption and bribery”. It was asserted that especially the investigation on politicians and their children was launched by “police and prosecutors who are allegedly members of FETÖ”. This process, publicly known as the “17/25 December operation”, was later accepted as a turning point in the conflict between the Gülen Congregation and the AKP government. Investigations were launched on prosecutors and police personnel who launched the operation. In this period, a Zaman newspaper was taken into state administration by court order.
In his final defensive statement, Yazgan repeated his statement about not knowing that ByLock was an objectionable application. Yazgan also stated:
“I was once marginalised because I was not a member of the congregation, yet today I stand trial on charges of being an organisation member. This is saddens me, I am not a member of the congregation. I am not a member of the FETÖ/PDY terrorist organisation, I am a journalist. I do not accept these charges and I demand my acquittal and release”.
The court sentenced Yazgan to 10 years, six months of imprisonment on charges of “membership of an armed terrorist organisation”. Taking Yazgan’s “good conduct” during the trials into account, the court commuted his sentence to eight years, nine months of imprisonment. Along with the sentencing, the court also ruled that Yazgan continue to be held in custody.
The Appeals Process
The Aegean Regional Representative for the now-closed Zaman newspaper Vahit Yazgan’s attorney Mehmet Nur Terzi launched an appeal at the court of appeals against the ruling of the local court on 2 April 2018.
The appeal demanded that the detention of Yazgan be overturned and called for his release. Terzi demanded that the decision of the local court be overturned and a decision be made for his acquittal. The appeal stated that “journalistic activities could not be cited as evidence of membership of an armed terrorist organisation”.
The 2nd Penal Department of the Izmir Circuit Courts of Appeal rejected the application on 18 July 2018. The decision of the Court of Appeals stated that “there had been no deficiency regarding the evidence and the proceedings, the evaluation had been appropriate in terms of evidence and relevant actions had been categorised correctly”.
The Court of Cassation Process
Vahit Yazgan’s attorney launched an appeal with the Court of Cassation against the initial decision of the local court which was later approved by the court of appeals. The appeal demanded that Yazgan be released pending trial and called for a re-trial.
The 16th Penal Chamber of the Court of Cassation rejected the bill of review with its decision on 26 March 2019.
With the Court of Cassation’s decision, the imprisonment sentence of eight years and nine months issued by Izmir 14th High Criminal Court was finalised.
Yazgan had been in prison for two years and nine months when the imprisonment sentence of eight years and nine months was finalised.
The Constitutional Court Process
Vahit Yazgan applied to the Constitutional Court on 14 December 2016 before the indictment concerning him was completed and his trial began.
Yazgan asserted that the detention order concerning him was not legal; the detention period was not reasonable; the arrest warrant concerning him was not legal and reasonable and that his access to the investigation file was restricted. Based on these claims, he demanded the court to identify “a violation of the rights to freedom and security of the individual”.
The Constitutional Court rejected Yazgan’s application with its decision on 15 November 2018.
After the decision of the local court was finalised through the decision of the Court of Cassation, Yazgan launched an appeal at the Constitutional Court for the second time on 28 May 2019.
This time, he demanded the court to identify a “the violation of the right to a fair trial, the right of defence and the freedom of expression and press”. In addition to requesting for a re-trial, he demanded TRY 200,000 in moral compensation.
The Constitutional Court is yet to rule on Yazgan’s second appeal.
The ECtHR Process
Yazgan also applied to the European Court of Human Rights on 30 March 2017. He asserted that his detention and arrest had violated his “right to freedom and security”. The court has not yet made its decision on the application.
Vahit Yazgan - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial (Reasoned Judgement)
Vahit Yazgan - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial (The Constitutional Court's Judgement)
Vahit Yazgan - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial (AİHM Başvuru Dilekçesi)
Vahit Yazgan - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial (İstinaf Başvuru Dilekçesi)
Vahit Yazgan - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial (Yargıtay Temyiz Dilekçesi)
Vahit Yazgan - "Establishing and Leading an Armed Terrorist Organization" Trial (Indictment)
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