Yetkin Yıldız, the former editor-in-chief of the news website Aktif Haber, was arrested on 22 July 2016 as part of an investigation into “Fuat Avni” a twitter handle that was active between 2014-2017 and that claimed to belong to an anonymous Ankara-insider leaking confidential information on the doings of the Justice and Development Party (AKP).
Yıldız was allegedly aiming to lay the groundworks for the July 2016 coup attempt by way of “manipulating public opinion,” “degrading state officials,” degrading state institutions” through social media on behalf of FETÖ/PYD (Fethullahist Terrorist Organization/Parallel State Structure).
After three days in custody, Yıldız was brought to the Istanbul Courthouse on 24 July 2016, where he appeared before the 2nd Criminal Judgeship of Peace. The judgeship jailed Yıldız pending trial and sent him to the Silivri Prison.
The indictment against Yıldız was prepared on 16 January 2017, around six months after his arrest, and on 13 February 2017, the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul took up his case.
In the indictment against 29 defendants, most of whom were journalists, Yıldız was charged with “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey or preventing it from fulfilling its duties,” and “establishing and managing an armed terrorist organization.”
The first hearing of the trial was held from 27 to 31 March 2017 at the Istanbul 25th High Criminal Court. Delivering his defense statement on 30 March, Yıldız told the court that all press establishments had published news stories about the posts by the Twitter account called “fuatavni” but only a specific group of people were standing trial over their reporting. Yıldız said the allegations against him in the 190-page indictment covered only half a page. He said the allegations were that he published news on Fuat Avni and had TL 2,300 in a BankAsya account.” Yıldız requested to be released and acquitted.
Submitting an interim opinion at the end of the five-day hearing, on 31 March 2017, the prosecutor asked the court to release journalists Yetkin Yıldız, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Murat Aksoy, Atilla Taş, Yakup Çetin, Abdullah Kılıç, Seyid Kılıç, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Hüseyin Aydın, Ali Akkuş, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar and Oğuz Usluer pending trial, taking into consideration the amount of time the defendants had already spent behind bars.
In its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ruled to release 21 defendants including Yetkin Yıldız pending trial, releasing eight other defendants in addition to 13 names whom the prosecutor asked the court to release. The court adjourned the trial until 27 April 2017.
However, on the same day, the prosecutor filed an objection with the next court of first instance against the trial court’s decision to release the eight other defendants. The 26th High Criminal Court of Istanbul accepted the objection and ordered the arrests of these defendants.
Again on the same day, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched a “coup” investigation and issued arrest warrants against the 13 defendants whom the prosecutor asked the court to release pending trial, including Yetkin Yıldız.
Yıldız and the 12 other defendants who were supposed to be released were arrested outside the prison upon the order of the Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and taken to the Istanbul Police Department. The reasons for arrest were listed as “the existing evidence against the suspects, the nature of the alleged crime, and flight risk.”
Yıldız and 12 other defendants were brought to the Istanbul Courthouse on 14 April 2017 after spending 15 days in custody. They appeared before the 12th Istanbul Criminal Judgeship of Peace, which jailed Yıldız and 11 other journalists (Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Yakup Çetin, Bünyamin Köseli, Cihan Acar, Abdullah Kılıç, Oğuz Usluer, Atilla Taş, Hüseyin Aydın, Murat Aksoy, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyid Kılıç) pending trial on the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order.” Journalist Ali Akkuş was freed under judicial control measures.
Following its release order, the panel of the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul (presiding judge İbrahim Lorasdağı and judges Barış Cömert and Necla Yeşilyurt Gülbiçim) and prosecutor Göksel Turan, were suspended on 3 April 2017 by the Council of Judges and Prosecutors (HSYK).
The second hearing in the trial was held on 27 April 2017. The 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul heard defense statements by Yıldız and his co-defendants, who requested to be released. Rejecting the requests, the court adjourned the trial until 6 July 2017.
A new indictment was prepared over the “coup” allegation on 6 June 2017 against Yıldız and 12 other journalists who were rearrested after being released. The 314-page indictment sought two aggravated life imprisonment sentences for the 13 journalists including Yıldız on the charges of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” and “attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey.”
The Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor sent the indictment to the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul for the case to be merged with the ongoing “FETÖ media trial” against 29 defendants. The court set 16-18 August 2017 as the dates for the next hearing.
The third hearing in the “FETÖ media trial” against 29 defendants took place on 6 July 2017 at the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. The court panel that had changed for the third time ruled for the continuation of the pre-trial detention of all jailed defendants in the case and the trial was adjourned until 24 October 2017.
“Coup” case merged with ongoing trial
The first hearing in the trial where Yıldız and 12 other defendants were accused of “attempting to abolish, replace or prevent the implementation of the Constitutional Order of the Republic of Turkey” and “attempting to overthrow the Government of the Republic of Turkey” took place on 16, 17 and 18 August 2017 at the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Making his defense statement at the hearing, Yıldız told the court that he was accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” in one case, for “instigating the coup” in another, even though the indictments of the two cases were practically the same. Yıldız requested to be acquitted.
At the end of the three-day hearing, the court ordered the release of Bünyamin Köseli and Cihan Acar under travel bans while it also ruled for the continuation of the imprisonment of Yıldız and the other defendants in pre-trial detention. The court also decided to merge the “coup” case with the “terrorist group membership” case. The merged case was therefore adjourned until 24 October 2017.
The first hearing after the cases were merged took place on 24 October 2017. While ruling for the release of defendants Murat Aksoy, Atilla Taş and teacher Davut Aydın, the court refused to release Yıldız and the other defendants. The court adjourned the trial until 4 December 2017. At the hearing held on that date the court again rejected Yıldız’s request to be released and set 6 February 2018 as the date for the next hearing to allow time for the completion of the file.
“Coup” charge dropped
Presenting his final opinion at the hearing that took place on 6 February 2018, the prosecutor requested the charge of “attempting to overthrow the constitutional order” against 13 defendants including Yıldız to be dropped. On the other hand, the prosecutor requested all the defendants except Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık to be sentenced over “membership in FETÖ/PDY” and for all the defendants previously released in the case to be re-arrested. Announcing its interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for İbrahim Balta, the former economics correspondent of Zaman newspaper, to be released under judicial control measures. Granting additional time for the preparation of the final defense statements, the trial was adjourned until 22-23 February 2018.
During the hearing held on 22 and 23 February 2018, 13 defendants delivered their final defense statements. At the end of the hearing the court ruled for the files of the two suspects at large, Bülent Ceyhan and Said Sefa, to be separated on the grounds that they were accused of “terrorist organization membership” in other cases while also ordering for the file of detained defendant Emre Soncan be separated and merged with another trial against him. As a result, the number of defendants in the case fell from 29 to 26. The trial was adjourned until 7-8 March 2018.
Yıldız made his final defense statement at the final hearing on 8 March 2018.
Announcing its verdict at the end of the hearing, the 25th High Criminal Court of Istanbul convicted 23 defendants including Yıldız of “membership in an armed terrorist organization.” The court sentenced Yıldız to 7 years and 6 months in prison. The court also ruled for the continuation of “the detention on remand” of all the detained defendants.
Appellate court decision
An appellate court upheld the prison sentences given to the 25 defendants including Yetkin Yıldız on 22 October 2018. Rejecting the appeal requests, the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice also ruled for the continuation of the imprisonment of the detained defendants.
Due to Yıldız being sentenced to more than five years in prison, the case file was transferred to the Supreme Court.
Other cases against Yıldız
Upon the complaint of a presiding judge who was mentioned in a news story titled “Vakit gazetesinden şok iddia” (Vakit newspaper makes shocking claim) published on the website Stratejik Boyut, at the time when Yıldız was the editor-in-chief of the website, a lawsuit was launched for alleged “insult” against Yıldız in 2010.
At the end of the prosecution, Yıldız was sentenced to 10 months in prison over “insult” by the 35th Criminal Court of First Instance, but the sentence was deferred. Inspecting Yıldız’s work, the 1st Criminal Court of First Instance of Silivri decided that Yıldız should be punished on the charges of “insult” and “provoking the commission of an offense” for an article that was published on the Aktif Haber news website, at the time when he was its editor-in-chief, about the police officers at Silivri Prison.
On the grounds that Yıldız had committed a crime before five years passed after his sentence was deferred, at the hearing held on 9 May 2019, the 35th Criminal Court of First Instance of Ankara announced its verdict, sentencing Yıldız to 10 years in prison. However, the conviction was postponed for one year.
Some of the trials launched against Yıldız over various news stories published on Aktif Haber are ongoing.
A lawsuit filed against Yıldız upon the complaint of Bülent Akyar, a police officer at the Gümüşhane Provincial Security Directorate Department of Anti-Smuggling, stemmed from an article published on Aktif Haber and other news websites, titled “Gümüşhane’de polis esnafı takibe aldı” (police is tracking shopkeepers in Gümüşhane.) The indictment prepared by the Gümüşhane Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on 9 February 2017, requested Yıldız to be sentenced over “insult, illegally obtaining or disseminating someone’s personal data and violating the privacy of another person’s personal life.”
Access was blocked to an article titled “Fuat Avni Suruç patlaması ile ilgili Twitter’dan çarpıcı mesajlar paylaştı” (Fuat Avni shared shocking posts about the Suruç bombing on Twitter) which was published on Aktif Haber on 23 July 2015, after the lawyers of Efkan Ala, who was the Interior Minister at the time, filed a complaint. On the grounds that the article was not removed despite access to it having been blocked, the Ankara Office of the Chief Public Prosecutor drafted an indictment on 10 September 2018. The indictment requested Yıldız to be punished for “failing to comply with the decision of the judiciary to remove the content.” This case is currently overseen by the Ankara Criminal Court of First Instance.
Another lawsuit for alleged “insult and slander” was filed upon the complaint of Ala against Yıldız over the same news story. The indictment drafted by Bakırköy Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office on 14 December 2015 sought the punishment of Yıldız on the grounds that the statements made in the news story were insulting and slanderous. The hearing dated 9 July 2019 and overseen by the 31st Criminal Court of First Instance was adjourned until 17 December 2019 for the completion of the case file.
The Aksaray Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office drafted an indictment against Yıldız over a news report he wrote on a suicide, which was published on Aktif Haber on 25 June 2015.The indictment for that case, dated 26 December 2018, requested Yıldız to be sentenced on the grounds that according to article 20 of Press Law number 5187, “those who publish articles which can encourage suicide beyond the limits of furnishing information on such activities shall be sentenced to pay a major fine” and he failed to comply with the first clause of article 75 of the Turkish Penal Code which stipulates that the determined penalty is to be paid within 10 days of any notification by the Public Prosecutor’s Office.