Yıldırım was the chief editor of the ultranationalist-leftist Aydınlık (Enlightenment), then a monthly, when police detained him at his house in Istanbul as part of the government’s investigation into the alleged Ergenekon plot, a shadowy conspiracy that authorities believed was aimed at overthrowing the government through a military coup.
He was being held at Silivri L Type Closed Prison No. 1 in Istanbul on initial charges of being a member of a terrorist organization, violating privacy rights, and disclosing state secrets. According to the indictment, Yıldırım received a recording from Ergenekon conspirators and published its contents. The recording purported to include a 2004 phone conversation between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in which the two discussed the sensitive issue of Cyprus’ political status.
As evidence, authorities cited Yıldırım’s published work and other recordings allegedly found during a police raid of the Aydınlık offices. Yıldırım said he had no ties to Ergenekon. Mehmet Aytenkin, his lawyer, told CPJ that his client was arrested because Aydınlık was critical of the government.
In August 2013, the 13th Court of Serious Crimes in Istanbul convicted at least 20 journalists, including Yıldırım, in the Ergenekon case, and sentenced them to various terms in prison, according to news reports. Yıldırım was sentenced to 16 years and 10 months on charges of “acquiring confidential documents concerning the security of the State,” “obtaining and distributing personal data illegally,” and “membership of an armed terrorist organization,” according to an updated list of imprisoned journalists provided by the Justice Ministry in November 2013 at CPJ’s request.
Yıldırım is appealing the verdict before Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals. The appeal was pending in late 2013.