Fevzi Yazıcı, the former design director of the shuttered Zaman newspaper, was arrested on 27 July 2016 as part of the investigation into the alleged media leg of what the government calls the Fethullahist terrorist organization (FETÖ).
Yazıcı, who was brought to the courthouse on 5 August 2016, was placed in pre-trial detention by the Istanbul 3rd Criminal Judgeship of Peace and sent to Silivri Prison.
On 11 April 2017, at the end of the investigation carried out by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, an indictment was issued against 17 people, including journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, as well as Yazıcı. The 247-page indictment, which consisted of 24 folders of investigation documents, accused Yazıcı of “attempting to overthrow the Parliament or to prevent it from fulfilling its duties” (Article 311 of Turkish Penal Code [TCK]); “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or to prevent it from fulfilling its duties” (Article 312 of TCK); “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order” (Article 309 of TCK), “managing an armed terrorist organization” (Article 314/1 of TCK); “membership in a terrorist organization” (Article 314/2 of TCK); “committing a crime on behalf of an armed terrorist organization while not being its member” (Article 220/6 of TCK); “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization” (Article 220/7 of TCK), and “inciting hatred and hostility” (Article 216 of TCK).
The indictment cited a TV commercial released by Zaman daily on 5 October 2015, which allegedly alluded to the impending coup attempt of 15 July 2016, as the basis for the accusations against Yazıcı. The prosecutor alleged that Yazıcı was involved in preparing and releasing the TV commercial in question. Claiming that the said commercial aimed to lay the groundwork for public opinion and perception against the government by means of coded messages, and hence, Yazıcı participated in the coup attempt, the indictment argued:
“Having regard to the fact that the period between the 15 July 2016 coup attempt carried out by the terrorist organization and the release of the TV commercial, which included footage of a laughing baby, on 5 October 2015 is 9 months and 10 days, that is, a full term pregnancy; that had the coup attempt succeeded, the images that would come to life throughout the country as a result of the nationwide curfew that would be imposed after the declaration of a so-called martial law would be similar to the ghost streets and deserted settlements used in the TV commercial; that certain settlements and public institutions, especially the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, were bombed during the coup attempt, and the TV commercial included public warning sirens used at times of war and other threats, as well as that the sound of cannons heard while the newspaper’s logo is displayed on the screen gives the perception that the settlement shown in the said TV commercial was bombed, […] it cannot be a coincidence that the coup attempt and the TV commercial are similar...”
On 14 April 2017, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court accepted the indictment.
The first hearing of the trial was held on 19-23 June 2017. In his defense statement, Yazıcı rejected the accusations and said he had no contribution to either the preparation or the release of the TV commercial in question.
Prosecutor asks for aggravated life sentence
At the hearing held on 11 December 2017, the prosecutor presented their final opinion, and requested aggravated life sentences for six defendants who were held in pre-trial detention, including Yazıcı, on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order” pursuant to TCK 309/1.
Making his defense statement against the prosecutor’s final opinion at the hearing held on 12 February 2018, Yazıcı initially responded to the allegations concerning a letter found in a USB drive belonging to him, which was allegedly written by Fethullah Gülen to a judge tried and convicted for “membership in FETÖ.”
Yazıcı stated that the document was fake and had been put on the USB drive without his knowledge, adding that the spelling mistakes found in the letter proved its inauthenticity. Yazıcı said that the word “hasebiyle” (“on account of”) was written as “hesabıyla” (“by rate of”) in the letter, which was probably due to the fact the person who produced the document was rather young, as opposed to Gülen, who, according to Yazıcı, carefully checked everything he wrote.
Citing an expert report on the document, Yazıcı said that the letter contained similar stains found in a letter sent in 2013 by Gülen to then President Abdullah Gül. Stating that the letter’s signature was the same as the one in the 2013 letter, Yazıcı claimed that it was not possible for a person to repeat exactly the exact same signature two years apart.
Yazıcı, who was not present at the previous hearing because he was being questioned at the police department regarding the letter in question, argued that the letter was hastily prepared to be brought up for the impending US trial of Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian multi-millionaire businessman who was arrested in Miami in 2016 on charges of money laundering and violating US sanctions on Iran. Yazıcı stated that he was chosen as “the victim” since he had gone to Washington to attend a design conference at the time.
Yazıcı claimed that the prosecution sought to obtain a confession from him that the judge Mustafa Başer was involved in the FETÖ network, but said that he did not know that person.
In response to the allegations concerning his account in Bank Asya, which was allegedly linked with the FETÖ network, Yazıcı said that he only had an account in the bank in question because Zaman newspaper deposited salaries of its staff members there, noting that there were no suspicious or inexplicable transfers from or to his account.
Yazıcı stated that he had nothing to do with the TV commercial released in the autumn of 2015 by Zaman newspaper, which the prosecution alleged contained a secret message on the coup attempt. The journalist said he attended a meeting where the said commercial was discussed because he was available at the office at the time, but he wasn’t involved in the content or the production of the commercial.
Noting that Zaman newspaper aired commercials on the same dates each year, Yazıcı said, “This information alone refutes the allegation that the commercial was prepared 9 months and 10 days prior to the coup. No one who saw the commercial said, ‘This suggests a coup.’ Why would the putschists report the date [of the attempted coup] to me and jeopardize the entire operation?” “An indictment was born exactly 9 months and 10 days after I was detained. Does this have any meaning? No, it’s just a coincidence. Such things are a part of life,” he said.
At the hearing held on 15 February 2018, Yazıcı’s lawyer Sevgi Taş addressed the court to remark on the merits of the case, arguing that Yazıcı could not be accused on account of having worked for Zaman newspaper. “It is legally unacceptable to say to a person, ‘I just realized that the organization you once worked for was terrorist’,” Taş said.
Taş also touched on Yazıcı’s detention in December 2017 in connection with a letter, which was allegedly written by Gülen to two judges and found in a USB drive belonging to her client.
Recalling that Yazıcı’s house was searched and his digital equipment was seized at the time of his initial arrest, Taş said that the visual director was re-arrested while he was still in prison on the grounds that the document in question was found in one of the confiscated USB drives exactly 484 days later.
Taş said that she could not have a meeting with Yazıcı for eight days following his arrest due to a ban, adding that it was unprecedented to arrest someone while they were held in pre-trial detention in the Turkish judiciary system.
“He was told not to tell even his lawyer what was discussed with him. Since then, he has been in -- I was going to say solitary confinement, but the prison administration gets steamed up when you say that -- he has been staying alone in a three-person cell,” Taş said.
When asked for his last statements at the final hearing, Yazıcı said that he had been on trial for eight months, but could not find the opportunity to finish his defense statement.
Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the court sentenced six defendants who were held in pre-trial detention -- journalist brothers Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan; journalist Nazlı Ilıcak; former Police Academy lecturer Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, and Yakup Şimşek, former marketing director of Zaman, as well as Yazıcı -- to aggravated life imprisonment on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order.”
On 16 March 2018, the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court issued its reasoned judgment in writing. The conclusion part of the reasoned decision read, “The defendants are co-perpetrators of the crime of violating the Constitution through participating in the violence, bombing and murders that were committed across the country during the coup attempt as part of the intention of violating the Constitutional order, through participating in the use of physical force, beyond immaterial force.” “The convicted defendants have participated in the use of physical force across Turkey on the night of 15-16 July as joint perpetrators,” the reasoned decision said, “As such, and considering the gravity of the defendants’ actions, they were punished in a manner that was definitely open to everyone, and that was prompt; unavoidable; proportionate to the gravity of their crimes, and as prescribed by the laws, as follows.”
Appellate court hearings
The lawyers representing Yazıcı and other detained defendants in the trial brought the case file before an appellate court. In its preliminary proceedings report dated 27 June 2018, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice decided to re-hear the case in order to evaluate the evidence.
The first appeal hearing was held on 21 September 2018 at the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice.
In his defense statement, Yazıcı stated that he was a visual designer and had never shot any TV commercials. Stating that he was not involved in the preparation or the production of the TV commercial, which was the basis of the accusations brought against him, Yazıcı said that he was invited to the approval meeting of the said commercial at the last minute, and that he attended the meeting because he was available at the time. Recalling that all the witnesses had stated that the TV commercial was produced by Tibet Sanlıman, Yazıcı said, “This proves that I was not involved in the TV commercial. Did any of the soldiers who had actively participated in the coup say that they received any instructions from the TV commercial? Isn’t it necessary that the prosecutor should find such a person to prove his allegations?” Stating that the sentence handed down on him by the court of first instance was unlawful, Yazıcı requested to be acquitted and released. His lawyer, Mesut Yazıcı, demanded the court hear the witnesses, also requesting the visual designer’s acquittal and release.
Following the defense statements, the prosecutor submitted their final opinion, requesting that the defendants, including Yazıcı, be sentenced to aggravated life imprisonment for “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order” as per Article 309/1 of TCK. The prosecutor also demanded that the court order the continuation of the detention of all defendants.
At the second appeal hearing held on 2 October 2018, Yazıcı responded to the prosecutor’s final opinion, rejecting the “coup” accusations brought against him once again. Yazıcı said there remained a great number of unanswered questions concerning the accusations. “What instructions did the soldiers take from this TV commercial?” asked Yazıcı. His lawyer told the court that the shuttered newspaper’s former Editor-in-Chief Ekrem Dumanlı had responsibility over the TV commercial, and that the said commercial was actually approved by the Turkish broadcasting regulator RTÜK. The lawyer also added that the accusations regarding the TV commercial were “sensational,” brought forward by “a certain group trying to take credit for themselves.”
Following the defense statements in response to the prosecutor’s final opinion, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice rejected the appeal requests and upheld the prison sentences handed down to six defendants, including Yazıcı.
Supreme Court of Appeals ruling
The lawyers representing Yazıcı and other defendants brought the case file before the Supreme Court of Appeals. On 8 January 2019, the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals requested the reversal of the convictions rendered in the trial, submitting their judicial opinion to the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals. In the judicial opinion, the general prosecutor said that Yazıcı, Özşengül and Şimşek should have been prosecuted on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” instead of “attempting to overthrow the Constitutional order.”
On 5 July 2019, the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported the judgment rendered by the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals. According to the report, the Chamber ruled in line with the judicial opinion submitted by the Office of the General Prosecutor of the Supreme Court of Appeals and overturned Yazıcı’s conviction. The Chamber ruled that Yazıcı should face the lesser charge of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.”
The retrial of the case got underway on 8 October 2019 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court. Yazıcı addressed the court via the judicial video-conferencing network SEGBİS from the Silivri Prison, where he is held in pre-trial detention, rejecting the accusations and demanding his acquittal and release. At the end of the hearing, the court decided to abide by the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling, and to keep Yazıcı in pre-trial detention.
On 31 October 2019, the prosecutor submitted their final opinion in line with the reversal decision delivered by the Supreme Court of Appeals. In their opinion presented in between the hearings, the prosecutor demanded that Yazıcı, Özşengül and Şimşek be sentenced for “membership in a terrorist organization,” seeking a sentence above the minimum prison term prescribed by the law.
The second hearing of the retrial was held on 4 November 2019 at the Istanbul 26th High Criminal Court.
Yazıcı requested additional time to prepare his defense statement in response to the final opinion of the prosecutor. The presiding judge rejected Yazıcı’s request, saying, “We didn’t grant anyone any additional time, and we will not grant you, either. It’s your decision. You can choose whether to make a statement on the final opinion. Let’s move on to the next defense statement.” Yazıcı then began to make his defense statement, saying: “I received the final opinion of the prosecutor on Thursday, and I haven’t been able to consult with my lawyer. In that case, I will make a defense statement that I am not comfortable with.” Yazıcı said that the charges brought against him in the Supreme Court of Appeals ruling were based on his employment at Zaman newspaper, adding: “I am being accused of terrorism just because I did my job at Zaman. I have no affiliation with the members of the organization. This is an attempt to create a crime out of something that is clearly not a crime.”
Stating that he had closed his account at Bank Asya, which was his salary account, when he left Zaman, Yazıcı said: “The prosecutor says in the same sentence that the TV commercial that allegedly contains a secret message is speculative, subliminal, and that it cannot be a coincidence. I am not an advertiser. I have never produced a commercial in my life. I was only included in the preview of the commercial in question just 15 minutes before it aired. My work is within the law. I have not committed any crimes. I demand that the court put an end to the unjust treatment I have been subjected to for the past 3 years and 3 months, ruling for my acquittal.”
When asked for his last words at the end of the hearing, Yazıcı said, “I have been seeking justice for 3 years and 3 months. I am innocent. I demand my acquittal.”
The court sentenced Yazıcı to 11 years and 3 months in prison for “membership in a terrorist organization.” The court also ruled for the continuation of Yazıcı’s detention.
Pending review before the Supreme Court
The lawyers for Yazıcı, Ahmet Altan, Nazlı Ilıcak, Yakup Şimşek and Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül, as well as the Presidency and the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, in their capacity as the intervening parties, appealed the judgments rendered in the retrial. On 31 December 2019, the case file was sent to the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice for review.
On 6 January 2020, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice decided that all reviews in respect of the trial court’s decision following a retrial fell within the jurisdiction of the relevant chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals until the said verdict became final as per law. In a unanimous decision, the appellate court ruled to refer the case file to the relevant chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals. Currently, the case is pending review before the Supreme Court of Appeals.