Yetkin Yıldız, chief editor of the news website Aktifhaber, is one of several journalists imprisoned after the failed 2016 coup attempt. He has twice been charged in joint trials. He was acquitted of charges that linked him to the coup attempt, in 2018 he was found guilty of being a member of a terrorist organization.
An Istanbul court on July 24, 2016, ordered Yıldız to be detained pending trial as part of a sweeping purge of suspected followers of exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, according to press reports. 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 July 15, 2016, military coup. CPJ could not determine the precise date that police first detained Yıldız.
When the trial started in March 2017, an Istanbul court ordered Yıldız and several of the other journalists with whom he was being tried to be released while the case was heard. However, authorities brought fresh charges and the journalists were ordered to remain in custody, according to reports. Authorities ordered an investigation into the judges who had ordered the release and they were relieved of duty, according to reports.
In the original indictment, all but one of the co-accused were charged with “being a member of an armed [terrorist] organization,” which carries up to 10 years in prison. The second indictment listed the charges as “attempting, through violence and force, to disrupt and replace the order as recognized by Turkey’s Constitution,” “attempting through violence and force to eliminate or prevent Parliament from carrying out its duties.” Both charges carry a maximum life sentence without parole.
CPJ found both indictments to be similar to those presented at trials of other journalists in Turkey. Prosecutors cited as evidence in these cases journalistic activity or acts of free speech and communication, or cited circumstantial evidence such as being employed by a certain media outlet or having an account at a bank allegedly linked to Gülenists.
The first indictment accused the defendants of manipulating the public perception of FETÖ to turn citizens against the government, which prosecutors argued, made the journalists members of the group that Turkey alleges is behind the attempted coup. The second indictment, which was presented as an addition to the original case, argued that the journalists should be held responsible for more than alleged membership to the group.
Prosecutors presented as evidence against Yıldız in the first indictment his position as chief editor. The second indictment cited as evidence his account with Bank Asya, which the government alleged was a Gülenist institution; his frequent travel abroad; and his communication records with people who were wanted or were on trial for alleged Gülenist activity. Some of these people had the Bylock App on their phones, according to authorities who claim that the app is evidence of being a FETÖ member. Yıldız did not have the app installed on his phone, according to the indictment. The indictment did not specify why traveling abroad was evidence of wrongdoing.
An Istanbul court on March 8, 2018, found Yıldız and at least 21 of the other journalists on trial guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” and sentenced Yıldız to seven years and six months in prison, according to reports.
The court acquitted all the defendants of the more serious coup-related charges in the second indictment. At least 18 of the journalists were sent to prison for varying prison terms. Two of them—Atilla Taş and Murat Aksoy—were sentenced and released for time served, and the journalists Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar remain free pending the appeal, according to reports.
Lawyers for the journalists told CPJ they would appeal the verdict.
As of late 2019, the journalist’s lawyer had not responded to CPJ’s emails and calls requesting updates on the case. Yıldız was being held in Istanbul’s Silivri Prison as of late 2018.
Lawyers representing other defendants in the trial told CPJ that as of late 2019, the Supreme Court of Appeals had not reviewed the appeal of the joint trial.
Yıldız has at least four other ongoing trials, all regarding content published in Aktifhaber, according to the press freedom news website Expression Interrupted. The website listed the trials as:
- A complaint filed by a police officer on February 9, 2017 for public insult and violation of privacy following an Aktifhaber story about him.
- A complaint filed on September 10, 2018, by lawyers for former Interior Minister Efkan Ala that said a news story regarding a whistleblower was not removed despite a ban.
- A July 9, 2019, compensation case, based on a complaint of insult and libel that Ala’s lawyers filed against Yıldız for the same story. The next hearing was scheduled for December 19, 2019.
- A violation of the press law, relating to a report of someone who took their own life. Yıldız was ordered to pay a fine.