Press Freedom

Journalist Yücel’s rights were violated, ECtHR finds

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that Die Welt reporter Deniz Yücel’s free speech, liberty and security rights were violated during his one-year long detention in a Turkish prison. 

The ECtHR on 25 January issued its decision on an individual application filed by Yücel who was held in the Silivri prison between 27 February 2017 and 16 February 2018 on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” charges.

The Court ordered Turkey to pay EUR 13,300 in compensation to the journalist.

The Court held by a 5 to 2 majority vote that Yücel’s right to personal liberty and security (Art. 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights – ECHR) were violated on the grounds that he had been imprisoned in the absence of plausible reasons to suspect him of a criminal offense. The Court also found the Turkish judiciary to be in violation of the 5th paragraph of Article 5 of the Convention, which secures the right to compensation for unlawful detention. Although the Turkish Constitutional Court found in May 2019 that Yücel had suffered a breach of his right to liberty and security and of his right to freedom of expression and of the press, the ECtHR noted that Yücel had not been awarded appropriate compensation by the Constitutional Court ruling. 

However, the compensation awarded to Yücel was “manifestly insufficient” the Court said, adding that this meant Yücel still held the right to an individual application to the ECtHR under Article 34 of the Convention.

The court stated that Yücel’s right to freedom of expression (Art. 10 ECHR) was violated as his detention “amounted to an ‘interference’ with his exercise of his right to freedom of expression. It also pointed out that holding persons expressing critical opinions in preventive detention had a chilling effect on freedom of expression.

The Court rejected a claim that Yücel had been denied access to his case files (Art. 5/4 ECHR) arguing that Yücel and his lawyer had adequate knowledge of the content of the case file to contest the lawfulness of his detention. The Court also said it chose not to evaluate the applicant’s claim that his detention was politically motivated, which is banned under Article 18 of the Convention. 

‘It has been confirmed that Deniz Yücel’s detention was arbitrary and unlawful’

Yücel’s lawyer Veysel Ok highlighted that the application was filed in 2017 and that the decision should have been issued while Yücel was still held in prison. Reminding that Yücel was kept in prison almost a year after the application was filed, Ok stated that “the ECtHR’s decision is nonetheless valuable as it has confirmed that Yücel’s detention was arbitrary and unlawful. The ECtHR’s ruling that Deniz Yücel’s freedom of expression and his right to freedom were violated is important, as it also confirms that journalists are detained and tried in Turkey for doing their jobs.”

Emphasizing that Yücel still stands trial in three  different cases, including the one in front of the Court of Cassation, Ok said: “Yücel was sentenced in an unlawful and politically motivated case which should have been dropped the minute the Constitutional Court published its decision. Furthermore, they created two separate cases out of this one. After the ECtHR’s decision, the Court of Cassation must overturn Yücel’s conviction and the local courts must immediately acquit Yücel of all charges.”

Background

On February 14, 2017, after news reports which spoke of a criminal investigation against him began circulating in the mainstream media, Deniz Yücel who was Die Welt’s Turkey correspondent at the time, went to the police station out of his own accord to provide his statement and was taken into police custody. On February 27, 2017, after being held in inhumane conditions and without his statement being taken for 13 days, Yücel was detained after giving his statement at the Prosecutor’s Office and sent to the Silivri High Security Prison. The prosecutor asked Yücel about his articles and news reports on the July 15th coup attempt, Turkey’s Syria and counter-terrorism policies.

The three-page indictment against Yücel which was prepared 364 days after his initial detention, charged him with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization in a consecutive manner” and “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” charges. In the indictment, the prosecutor claimed that Yücel made propaganda for both PKK and FETÖ/PDY organizations in penned articles which were published in Die Welt. The prosecutor cited a joke which Yücel had relayed in an article and the word “Armenian Genocide” as evidence for the “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” charge. The prosecutor, however, changed his opinion during the trial and requested that Yücel be acquitted for the “making propaganda for FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization” charge, but be sentenced for “making propaganda for PKK/KCK” and “inciting the public to hatred and hostility charges.” The prosecutor requested imprisonment for Yücel for up to 16 years 1 month and 15 days. In his opinion, he also requested that the court file a criminal complaint against Yücel for “insulting the state of the Republic of Turkey” and “insulting the president.”

At the sentencing hearing on July 16, 2020, the İstanbul 32nd High Criminal Court sentenced Yücel to 2 years 9 months and 22 days in prison for “making propaganda for the armed terrorist organization PKK/KCK over the press and in a consecutive manner.” The court acquitted Yücel of “making propaganda for the armed terrorist organization FETÖ/PDY” and “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” charges. The court also decided to file two criminal complaints against Yücel: for “insulting the state of the Republic of Turkey” because of his article dated October 26, 2016 and for “insulting the president” because of his article dated November 6, 2016.