Vahit Yazgan, a former reporter for the shuttered Turkish daily Zaman, was arrested shortly after the failed attempted coup of 2016 and found guilty of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization.” The journalist, who denies any involvement in the coup, is serving an eight-year, nine-month sentence.
Police detained Yazgan, the former Izmir Province correspondent for Zaman, in the coastal city of Izmir on August 8, 2016, according to court documents and his lawyer.
Izmir’s Fourth Court of Penal Peace on August 25, 2016, ordered the journalist jailed pending trial on charges that he was a follower of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, according to court documents and his legal representative. The government accuses Gülen of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” (or FETÖ/PDY, as the government calls it) within Turkey that it blames for orchestrating a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
A court in March 2016 ordered Zaman’s parent company put under government trustees, saying the company and the newspaper had ties to the Gülenist network. CPJ research shows that authorities targeted dozens of Zaman journalists with arrest and prosecution on terrorism charges since the failed July 2016 coup.
Police questioned Yazgan about his work for the newspaper, according to records of that interrogation, which CPJ reviewed. Yazgan told police that he worked as a correspondent for the newspaper until government-appointed trustees took over, and that he had been unemployed since. He denied having any ties to the Gülenist movement. According to records of his arraignment, which CPJ reviewed, he repeated these denials before the Izmir court, adding that he was not religious.
Yazgan’s trial on a charge of “leading a terrorist organization” started in Izmir on July 1, 2017, according to reports by the right-wing Ihlas News Agency (ıHA), which described the journalist as “a former Aegean region representative for the daily Zaman.”
The indictment said that Yazgan helped members of FETÖ infiltrate the Izmir police and the local organization of the nationalist Great Union Party (BBP), and that he managed FETÖ/PDY’s infiltration of businessmen in the province, according to the IHA report. A former BBP politician testified that in 2014, Yazgan said that the “Hizmet movement,” the official name of the Gülenists, had failed to appoint a police chief in Izmir whom the group favored, IHA reported.
Yazgan denied being a terrorist, according to IHA. The authorities said Yazgan had the Bylock app on his phone, which he denied, and also cited his bank account at Asya as evidence, the report said. Authorities allege that both use of the Bylock encrypted messaging app and banking at Asya are evidence of FETÖ/PDY membership.
Yazgan told the court that he had health problems due to his continued imprisonment, according to news reports. Details of the health issues were not specified.
The court refused two requests in 2017 that Yazgan be released pending trial, according to press reports that cited the official Anatolia News Agency.
An Izmir court on February 28, 2018, found Yazgan guilty of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and sentenced the journalist to eight years and nine months in prison, according to the pro-government daily Türkiye.
İsmail Avcı, the journalist’s lawyer, told CPJ in an October 2021 phone interview that Yazgan is being held at the Izmir High Security F-Type Prison No. 2, also known as the Kırıklar Prison.
Avcı said he had not visited the journalist due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they had exchanged letters. He said Yazgan appealed twice to the Constitutional Court of Turkey, once regarding his arrest and again regarding the right to a fair trial, but the court rejected both counts and his team appealed them to the European Court of Human Rights.
Avcı said in late 2021 that Yazgan may be eligible for parole in about a year.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2021 for comment, but did not receive any reply