Van – Final hearing of the trial where journalist İdris Yılmaz, who has been behind bars since January 2018, faced “making terrorist propaganda” and “membership in a terrorist organization” charges was held today. The court acquitted Yılmaz, whom Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) represents in court, for “making terrorist propaganda” charges but sentenced him to 6 years and 3 months for “membership in a terrorist organization” charges. The court decided to release Yılmaz as well but he will not be released immediately due to another sentence from 2015.
Third hearing of the trial where journalist İdris Yılmaz is tried whilst in detention for “membership in a terrorist organization” charges was held at Van 5th High Criminal Court today. This case was merged with another file where Yılmaz faced the same charge. İdris Yılmaz and his lawyers Savaş Avcı and Zelal Pelin Doğan were present in the courtroom. Representatives from the Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), his colleagues, friends and relatives were among those who monitored the hearing in solidarity with Yılmaz.
İdris Yılmaz was physically brought before the court for his final hearing. This was a first because Yılmaz had attended previous hearings from Elazığ Prison where he was detained via SEGBİS video-conference system and was never brought before the court in Van. In his final defense statement, Yılmaz underlined that journalism is a public service and stated that all his activities listed in the indictment were related to his professional activities as a journalist. Yılmaz stated that witness testimonies and the claims of the prosecution were baseless and demanded is acquittal.
Yılmaz’s lawyer Savaş Avcı noted that journalism is not a crime, stating that Yılmaz has been unlawfully detained for almost two years. “Turkey’s judicial record on freedom of press and expression has deteriorated significantly,” Avcı added.
Following statements from Yılmaz and Savaş Avcı, the court announced its verdict in the trial. The court acquitted Yılmaz for “making terrorist propaganda” charges and sentenced him to 6 years and 3 months in prison for “membership in an armed terrorist organization” charges. The court also decided to release Yılmaz from prison, considering his lengthy detainment period.
Yılmaz could be released next week if the local court accepts the petition
İdris Yılmaz will remain in prison due to a 2 year and 6 months prison sentence that he received in 2015. This sentence has already been upheld and his lawyers will apply to the local court and demand Yılmaz’s release, arguing that his 22-month detainment should be subtracted from this sentence. If the court accepts this request, Yılmaz could be released soon.
Following the announcement of the verdict Lawyer Savaş Avcı said, “In our opinion, İdris Yılmaz received this sentence based on evidence that was produced much later. Some pieces of evidence emerged only after İdris was detained and witness testimonies against him were also collected much later; all pieces of evidence that are used in the conviction decision were created after the fact. Furthermore, the case doesn’t have sufficient evidence to sentence İdris for ‘membership’ charges. İdris was sentenced solely based on testimonies from former members of the organization who benefit from effective repentance law. We will appeal this decision and hopefully the appellate court will overturn this unlawful decision. We will also apply to the court who sentenced İdris in 2015 and argue that he has served enough to be released for that sentence as well. He has been behind bars for 22 months. If the court accepts our request and subtracts the time he spent in prison from this previous sentence, İdris could be released sometime next week.”
In response to the court’s decision, MLSA Co-Director lawyer Veysel Ok noted that İdris Yılmaz has been targeted by local authorities due to his journalistic activities and added, “İdris is convicted based on illegitimate evidence and witness testimonies. He is expected to pay a price for critical journalism. We hope that this sentence given for ‘membership in an armed terrorist organization’ charge will be overturned by the appellate court. İdris has been detained for almost 2 years just because he’s an accomplished journalist. Our priority now is to have him released but we will take his case to the European Court of Human Rights as well.”
About İdris Yılmaz
İdris Yılmaz is the co-founder of Gazete Yaşam, a local newspaper in Van’s Erciş province, and was a reporter for Dicle Haber Ajansı (DİHA), which was shut down by the government. He was detained and arrested in January 2018 on account of sharing his criticism of the military operation in Afrin on social media. In February 2018, another investigation on Yılmaz was launched on charges of “membership to a terrorist organization.”
Arrested following the end of his detention period for the first investigation, Yılmaz was sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison on 3 January 2019. Erzurum Regional Administrative Court had overturned this judgement on March 6, 2019. Following the appellate court’s decision, Yılmaz’s case was reopened and merged with another file.