Fevzi Yazıcı, a former designer for the shuttered daily Zaman, was detained in July 2016 as part of Turkey’s sweeping purge after the attempted coup that year. In 2019, the Supreme Court revoked an earlier life sentence and ordered a retrial, at which Yazıcı was sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison.
Turkish authorities first issued a warrant for the detention of Yazıcı, the layout editor of the newspaper Zaman, on July 27, 2016. CPJ was unable to determine the precise date he was taken into custody.
Istanbul’s Third Court of Penal Peace on August 4, 2016, ordered Yazıcı jailed pending trial on charges of being a follower of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and "parallel state structure" (FETÖ/PDY, by its Turkish acronym) and of masterminding the failed July 15 coup.
On February 16, 2018, an Istanbul court sentenced Yazıcı, alongside his co-defendants—journalist Ahmet Altan and his brother, columnist Mehmet Altan; Nazlı Ilıcak, a former columnist for Özgür Düşünce and a former TV host for the shuttered broadcaster Can Erzincan TV; Yakup Şimşek, the newspaper’s former advertising director—to life in prison without parole for “attempting, through violence and force, to disrupt and replace the order as recognized by Turkey’s Constitution.”
On October 2, 2018, a local appeals court in Istanbul upheld the life sentences, according to reports.
The Supreme Court of Appeals revoked the life sentence and referred the case to the local court for retrial on July 5, 2019. At the retrial on November 4, 2019, Yazıcı was convicted of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced to 11 years and three months in prison, BBC Turkey reported.
Ahmet Altan was convicted of “aiding a [terrorist] organization without being a member” and sentenced to 10 years and six months in prison, while Ilıcak was sentenced to eight years and nine months for the same charge and released on probation for time served, BBC Turkey reported. The court also ordered Ahmet Altan released on probation for time served, the report said. On November 12, 2019, Altan was taken back into custody after a prosecutor appealed the ruling, according to German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle.
The court acquitted Mehmet Altan at the same hearing, according to BBC Turkey.
According to court records seen by CPJ when Yazıcı was first detained, the journalist told the court that he started his career at the weekly Aksiyon, and later joined the daily Zaman as its chief page designer. The government ordered both publications closed by decree using emergency powers it assumed after the failed military coup, asserting they had links to FETÖ/PDY. The court concluded that there was a strong suspicion that Yazıcı was a member of FETÖ/PDY because he worked in media outlets that were "within the structure of FETÖ/PDY’s media arm."
Yazıcı, under questioning, told the court that he did not know who owned Aksiyon. He said that he did not know whether Zaman had ever criticized Gülen–whom he admitted having met at one of the preacher’s sermons in the U.S., where Gülen is exiled–and that he was responsible only for laying out the newspaper’s pages.
According to press reports from June 2017, Yazıcı told the court during the first trial that he worked at Zaman because “they offered very good pay and conditions.” Yazıcı said, “Do not evaluate the Zaman I worked for with today’s extraordinary conditions. There was no ‘terrorism’ accusation against the newspaper. Those who wanted to advertise [in the newspaper] did. There were official ads featured. Government leaders were giving interviews.”
Yazıcı’s lawyer Sinan Erkan Şimşek told CPJ in a phone interview in September 2021 that the Supreme Court of Appeals had upheld the journalist’s sentence, and he had made a further appeal to the Constitutional Court. However, Simsek told CPJ by phone in October 2022 that after the conviction was approved by the Supreme Court of Appeals, the court’s own prosecutor’s office appealed the verdict, and noted that this is a “rare situation.” Simsek said that appeal should have led to Yazıcı’s release, but the case has been stuck at the court’s General Assembly of Criminal Chambers for two years. He added that this delayed the start of the Constitutional Court appeal.
Simsek said the Constitutional Court had also not yet heard two separate petitions in Yazıcı’s case, for unlawful arrest and violation of the right to a fair trial.
Şimşek said the lawyer who previously represented Yazıcı had also appealed to the European Court of Human Rights regarding the journalist’s arrest, and said he would pursue the case there if the Constitutional Court did not decide in their favor.
The Washington Post reported in May 2020—in a column about a U.S. exhibit of his art—that Yazıcı was being held at Silivri Prison in Istanbul.
In October 2022, Şimşek told CPJ that Yazıcı’s health is fine and that he is focusing on his work in prison. He added that the journalist prefers to stay in a cell on his own.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2022 for comment but did not receive any reply.