Press Freedom

MLSA applies to the ECtHR on behalf of imprisoned journalist Uğur Yılmaz

The Legal Team of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) has taken the conviction of journalist Uğur Yılmaz who has been in prison since 2019 to the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). In the application, it was argued that by convicting journalist Yılmaz Turkey violated his right to a fair trial, his right to liberty and security and his freedom of expression.

MLSA’s Legal Unit brings the sentencing of journalist Uğur Yılmaz to 7 years and 15 months prison on “membership of a terrorist organization” charge before the ECtHR. The lawyers emphasized that after 13 days in police custody Yılmaz was arrested on July 17, 2017. Reminding the court that the indictment against Yılmaz was prepared almost one year after his arrest, the lawyers shared with the court that Yılmaz was eventually convicted on his 475th day in detention. MLSA lawyers argued that throughout this process Yılmaz’s right to liberty and security which has been guaranteed by the Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was violated.

The lawyers further argued that the prison sentence was not handed down after a fair trial, but in fact Yılmaz’s right to a fair trial was violated on several accounts. It was emphasized that throughout the trial Yılmaz was forced to attend the hearings via the audio-visual information system (“the SEGBIS”) from the Elazığ 2nd High Security Prison despite the objections of both Yılmaz and his lawyers and the fact that the witnesses against Yılmaz were all present in the court. MLSA lawyers argued that, in defiance of the principle of equality of arms, Yılmaz was deprived of the right to be present in court for no substantial reason at all. It was also shared with the court that Yılmaz and his lawyers were not given the opportunity to examine the anonymous witness KZR21TTPZ whose testimony against Yılmaz was decisive for the prison sentence.

It was shared with the court that the violation of the Article 6 of the Convention continued with the Constitutional Court which found the application of Yılmaz inadmissible citing a problematic technical reason for such decision. The Constitutional Court did not examine the application lodged on behalf of Yılmaz arguing that it was not filed within 30 days. MLSA lawyers argued that the Constitutional Court took the National Judiciary Informatics System (UYAP) access date of the finalized verdict against Yılmaz by a lawyer who also had power of attorney in Yılmaz’s case instead of the official date of notification of the finalized verdict. MLSA lawyers reminded the ECtHR of the consensus among lawyers in Turkey who all think that the Constitutional Court’s reliance on the access date over UYAP is ill-intentioned and only designed to serve to lighten the workload of the Constitutional Court. MLSA lawyers argued that in this way Yılmaz’s right to equal access to the courts was also violated.

Reminding the court that Yılmaz has been deprived of his freedom by having been convicted after an unfair trial which was initiated because of his journalistic activities, MLSA lawyers argued that his freedom of expression which is protected by the Article 10 of the Convention was also violated.

Background

Journalist Uğur Yılmaz used to work at the Bitlis Municipality Press Unit and was dismissed after a trustee was appointed to the municipality. Yılmaz was detained on 5 July 2017 on the suspicion of “being a member of the PKK / KCK armed terrorist organization” as part of a criminal investigation led by the Bitlis Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. After 13 days in police custody, Yılmaz was arrested. The 8-page indictment in which Yılmaz was charged with “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “membership of a terrorist organization” was completed on July 11, 20018, a year after he was arrested. 

On November 5, 2019, at the 18th hearing of the trial, the Bitlis 2nd High Criminal Court acquitted Yılmaz of the propaganda charge but sentenced him to 6 years 10 months and 15 days in prison for “membership of a terrorist organization.”