Police on February 14, 2017, detained Deniz Yücel, the Turkey correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt, according to Turkish and German news reports. An Istanbul court on February 27 ordered Yücel to be jailed pending investigation into claims of “propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization” and “provoking the people to hatred and animosity,” the daily Evrensel reported. The first reports of his arrest suggested that the journalist was detained as part of an investigation into leaked emails belonging to Berat Albayrak, who is Turkey’s energy minister and the son-in-law of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
According to the report, the court cited Yücel’s journalistic work as evidence, in particular his interview with Cemil Bayık, a leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); a column critical of Turkey’s police towards its Kurdish citizens; two columns arguing that the evidence available did not prove that the outlawed Fethullah Gülen network was behind a failed military coup in July 2016; and another column on the destruction wrought in Cizre in the Turkish forces’ battle with Kurdish separatists.
At the court hearing, Yücel, who has Turkish and German citizenship, denied being a member of a terrorist organization and said that he works as a journalist “without taking orders from the state, my boss, [or] anybody,” Evrensel reported.
Yücel’s lawyer, Veysel Ok, told CPJ in September 2017 that although the journalist was still under investigation in relation to the leaked emails, his case was separated from that of the co-accused in June 2017, and Yücel had not been indicted in that case.
The journalist’s lawyers appealed to the Constitutional Court to release their client, Cumhuriyet reported on March 29, 2017. The lawyers argued that their client’s imprisonment violated his constitutional rights to physical integrity, personal freedom, a fair trial, presumption of innocence, freedom of communication, and freedom of speech.
Deutsche Welle reported that international journalists in Turkey said they believed Yücel’s arrest was meant as a warning to them.
German and Turkish leaders have made repeated public references to Yücel’s case. Erdoğan accused Yücel of being a spy and an “agent,” and said that he would ignore demands for the journalist’s release until Germany extradited “PKK terrorists” to Turkey. In an interview published in July, the president told Die Zeit that Yücel was a terrorist because he interviewed a leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey considers a terrorist organization.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said after a meeting with his German counterpart that “a new trend has started among European intelligence agencies where they use journalists as spies,” according to the pro-government daily newspaper Sabah.
The European Centre for Press Freedom reported on August 8 that Die Welt would bring Turkey before the European Court of Human Rights over the imprisonment of its reporter. Die Welt’s managing director, Stephanie Kaspar, said the newspaper’s argument would be that it cannot provide independent coverage from Turkey due to Yücel’s arrest.
Yücel’s lawyer told CPJ that his client was at Silivri Prison in Istanbul and that he was in good mental and physical health but had been kept in isolation since his arrest. Only his lawyers and immediate family were allowed to visit, the lawyer said.