Journalist İdris Yılmaz, who has been jailed since January 2018, was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison on 18 October 2019 by the 5th High Criminal Court of Van at the final hearing of his trial on terrorism-related charges.
The court acquitted Yılmaz of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist group” but convicted the journalist of “terrorist group membership” and sentenced him to 6 years and 3 months in prison. The court ruled to release Yılmaz, but the journalist remained behind bars due to a previous conviction.
A court in the eastern province of Van ruled to keep imprisoned journalist İdris Yılmaz in pre-trial detention at the end of a hearing on 8 August 2019. The hearing was the first one after two separate cases where he is charged with “membership of a terrorist organization” were merged.
Yılmaz was previously sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison but his sentence was overturned by an appellate court, which ordered re-trial. This case was then merged with another ongoing one in which Yılmaz is again charged with “membership of a terrorist organization.” Yılmaz attended the court hearing via court video-conferencing system SEGBİS from Elazığ Prison, where he is held.
His lawyer said although Yılmaz was accused of membership of the PKK, the purported evidence included in the case file appear to point to “FETÖ membership,” adding, “This shows that the judges who oversee the trial ruled for Yılmaz’s continued detention without even reading the case file,” said the lawyer.
The court ruled for Yılmaz’s continued pre-trial detention at the end of the hearing and adjourned the trial until 27 September.
7 February 2019:
Appellate court acquits jailed journalist İdris Yılmaz
3 January 2019:
5 June 2018:
14 October 2017 - Local journalists attacked multiple times while reporting
Local journalists attacked multiple times while reporting
A local Turkish businessman and his associates on October 14 beat two journalists, İdris Yılmaz and Erhan Akbaş, on several occasions after the pair asked questions the businessman did not like, Akbaş told the daily Evrensel.
Following the initial attack, which took place in Van City in the eastern Van province, the journalists went to the local Erciş district police station to file a complaint against the businessman. At the station, the local police chief swore at the two reporters and punched Yılmaz, according to the Evrensel report.
The police then escorted Akbaş and Yılmaz to the hospital, which the businessman and about 100 of his associates and family members then raided. During the raid, someone from the businessman's group punched Yılmaz and broke his nose, according to the Evrensel article.
The journalists told Evrensel that the hospital's security, which is contracted from one of the businessman's companies, did not intervene in the raid.
The doctors gave an injury report from the attacks to the businessman, rather than the journalists, according to Evrensel, which also stated that the police did not detain any of the attackers.
According to the news report, police released Yılmaz and Akbaş after they gave testimony about the events.
Yılmaz and Akbaş were reporting on an allegation that the businessman's company was using the local municipality's personnel and equipment for a construction project in breach of contract, Evrensel reported.
The two journalists previously worked for the shuttered, pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency, and went on to found their own local news website, gazeteyasam.com. **
Authorities accused Yılmaz and Atmaca of "making terrorist propaganda" for the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) on social media and Yılmaz was also accused of insulting the president on social media, according to documents from the police, prosecutor, and court that were reviewed by CPJ. On Saturday, a court ordered the two reporters to be held pending an investigation, reports said.
Turkish authorities use the country's broad anti-terror laws to prosecute journalists who cover sensitive topics, including Kurdish issues and banned organizations such as the PKK, CPJ has found. CPJ has documented how Turkey has used anti-terror laws for years to imprison journalists and has recently been cracking down on social media posts, particularly those related to the country's insult laws. In this case, authorities appear to have combined these two tactics.
"We call on Turkish authorities to immediately release Idris Yılmaz and Vildan Atmaca and stop using social media posts as a pretext to harass and jail critical journalists," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Expressing views on Facebook and Twitter do not amount to criminal activity, and imprisoning reporters for what they post online is incompatible with democratic governance."
According to Yılmaz's police testimony, which CPJ has reviewed, the journalist said he and Atmaca were among a group of reporters who had been turned away from a local hospital by police after trying to investigate claims that residents had been injured by Turkish soldiers. Since a fragile ceasefire between Turkish authorities and PKK fighters ended in July, clashes between security forces and rebels have become frequent in eastern and southeastern Turkey, according to reports.
Yılmaz's testimony says that later that day he and Atmaca were at a café with journalists from other news outlets when plain-clothed police approached and said they were detaining Yılmaz for "producing biased news." Several journalists who stood up for Yılmaz were arrested alongside him but, with the exception of Atmaca, the others were released Saturday, according to reports. In a video showing the arrests, which was posted to YouTube by Van TV Friday, police are seen shooting in the air to disperse a crowd.
According to police and court documents that CPJ viewed, Yılmaz was accused of creating terrorism propaganda and running a pro-PKK Facebook page called Ajans Erciş.The reporter stated in police testimony that he had no links to the Facebook page. Yılmaz was questioned about Facebook posts he allegedly made on his personal account that authorities said were pro-PKK, according to the documents. The reporter denied that the posts were terrorist propaganda.
Yılmaz was also accused of insulting the president through a cartoon posted to his personal Facebook page that showed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defecating on a map of Turkey, according to the documents. In testimony before the Erciş Chief Prosecutor's Office on Friday, the journalist said he did not accept any of the accusations made against him and said he did not think the figure featured in the cartoon looked like the president.
According to police testimony reviewed by CPJ, Atmaca was questioned about posts on her personal Facebook page dated August 2014, including a quote from a convicted PKK leader that authorities claimed conveyed sympathies for the organization. She was also questioned about a tweet dated October 14, 2015, in which she criticized Van police for allegedly firing on civilians. Atmaca denied the social media posts were terrorist propaganda, according to her testimony.