Deniz Yücel, German Die Welt newspaper’s correspondent in Turkey, was arrested in February 2017 in connection with a probe into the leaked e-mails of Minister Berat Albayrak, who is also President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s son-in-law.
On 27 February 2017, 13 days after his arrest, the Istanbul 9th Criminal Judgeship of Peace ruled to jail Yücel pending trial on charges of “terrorism propaganda” and “inciting animosity and hatred” in his newspaper articles.
Yücel’s detention sparked diplomatic tension with Germany. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has repeatedly said that Yücel was a German spy and a terrorist and that he will not be extradited to Germany.
Yücel’s lawyers have filed applications on his behalf with both the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Court of Human Rights.
In early July, news reports said that an indictment into six journalists who were first arrested in December 2016 in connection with the leaked e-mails of Berat Albayrak was completed and submitted to a court. The indictment did not list Yücel among the defendants and stated that Yücel’s case was separated from the case file, notwithstanding initial reports that he was sought for arrest as part of the same investigation.
On 5 July 2017, the European Court of Human Rights notified Yücel’s lawyers that his application has been communicated to the Turkish government and that it gave the government until 24 October 2017 to present its defense. It also announced that the German government has been invited to state its opinion on the application of Yücel, a national of both Turkey and Germany.
On 16 February 2018, Yücel was released from pre-trial detention, after a court accepted an indictment into Yücel, formally opening trial proceedings, and ruled to release him pending trial. Yücel is charged with “terrorism propaganda” and “inciting the public to hatred and animosity” in the indictment.
Hours after he was released from Silivri Prison, Yücel left Turkey for Germany on a private plane.
The first hearing of Yücel’s trial was held in his absence on 28 June 2018 at the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Yücel’s lawyer requested his immediate acquittal saying he was on trial for his journalistic activities. The court rejected the request for Yücel’s acquittal, although it agreed that Yücel can give his defense statement abroad. The next hearing in the case will be held on 20 December 2018.
The second hearing in Yücel’s trial was held on 20 December 2018 at the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Yücel, who returned to Germany after being released from detention in February, was not in attendance. In its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to wait for Yücel’s defense statement to be taken in Germany and adjourned the trial until 11 April 2019.
The third hearing in Yücel’s trial in absentia took place on 11 April 2019. P24 monitored the hearing. Lawyer Veysel Ok told the court that Yücel was to make his defense statement on 10 May in Berlin and requested for the trial to be adjourned until after Yücel’s statement is taken. Accepting this request, the court adjourned Yücel’s trial until 16 July.
The fourth hearing in Yücel’s trial took place on 16 July 2019 at the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. The presiding judge announced that the court had just received the Constitutional Court’s ruling concerning the individual application of Yücel, in which the top court ruled in favor of Yücel. Yücel’s lawyer asked the trial court to render its verdict in line with the Constitutional Court ruling and without waiting for Yücel’s defense statement, taken in May in Berlin, to be sent to the trial court. In its interim ruling, the court decided to wait until they receive Yücel’s statement and adjourned the trial until 17 October 2019.
The fifth hearing of Yücel’s trial in absentia took place on 17 October 2019. Yücel was represented in court by his lawyer Veysel Ok. The presiding judge informed those in attendance that the court received Yücel’s defense statement in between courtroom hearings. The prosecution then asked the court to hand over the case file for the preparation of their final opinion. In its interim ruling, the court ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecution and adjourned the trial until 13 February 2020.
The sixth hearing took place on 13 February 2020 at the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
It turned out that the prosecution had submitted their final opinion two days before the hearing, requesting the court to convict Yücel of “disseminating propaganda for the PKK/KCK terrorist group” and “inciting the public to hatred and animosity.” The prosecution asked the court to acquit Yücel of “disseminating propaganda for FETÖ/PDY” on the grounds that the objective elements of the offense could not be established.
The prosecutor then went on to request a criminal complaint to be filed against Yücel for putting the title “putschist” over a photograph of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan with a Turkish flag behind him in an article published on 6 November 2016.
The trial was adjourned until 2 April 2020 for Yücel's final defense statement. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Yücel's hearing was postponed until 24 June 2020. Issuing an interim ruling on 24 June, the court decided to re-examine Yücel’s case file and adjourned the trial until 16 July.
Conviction on "propaganda" charge
At the end of the final hearing, on 16 July 2020, the 32nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul unanimously ruled to acquit Yücel of “disseminating propaganda for the FETÖ/PDY armed terrorist organization” and “incitement to hatred and animosity,” but convicted him of “disseminating propaganda for the PKK/KCK armed terrorist organization” and sentenced him to 2 years, 9 months and 22 days in prison.
The court also ordered that criminal complaints be filed against Yücel on the charges of “insulting the president” and “insulting the Turkish Republic and its institutions” over his articles published in October 2016 and November 2016, and his defense statement to the trial court.
Constitutional Court application
On 28 June 2019, the Constitutional Court issued its judgment concerning the application on behalf of Deniz Yücel, who remained in pre-trial detention in Turkey for a year before being released by the trial court’s decision in February 2018.
In its judgment, dated 28 May 2019, the top court’s Second Section ruled that Yücel’s pre-trial detention violated his rights to personal liberty and security, enshrined in Article 19 of the Constitution, and the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press, enshrined in Articles 26 and 28.
Following his release, Yücel filed a compensation case against the Turkish government, seeking TL 2,980,000 in damages for his unlawful arrest and detention in 2017.
The 17th High Criminal Court of Istanbul rejected the case on 25 September 2018. Yücel’s lawyer appealed the ruling with the 19th Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, an appellate court, which ruled on 8 May 2019 that the damages Yücel suffered due to his arrest and pre-trial detention be determined. The appellate court ruled to send the case file back to the trial court for a retrial.
The retrial took place on 12 September 2019. Yücel, who lives in Germany, did not attend. He was represented by his lawyer, Veysel Ok. At the end of the hearing, the court rejected the case once again.