Turkish court gives journalist Yanardağ jail term and orders his release

A Turkish court has released journalist Merdan Yanardağ after sentencing him to two years and six months in prison on charges of "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" over his remarks on the contact ban imposed upon jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

Duvar English

The first hearing for Merdan Yanardağ, editor-in-chief of the opposition TV channel TELE 1, was held on Oct. 4 regarding his remarks on the jailed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan’s contact ban.

The court sentenced Yanardağ who has been jailed for 101 days pending trial to two years and six months in prison on charges "making propaganda for a terrorist organization" and released him.

In their final sentencing opinion ("mütalaa"), the prosecutor had asked for Yanardağ's imprisonment for up to 7.5 years.

During a live broadcast on TELE1 on June 20, Yanardağ said the contact ban and isolation imposed upon Öcalan should be lifted. "Abdullah Öcalan is over 70 years old, it has been a long time since he has been in jail, 25 years without interruption. He is the longest-serving political prisoner in Turkey. If normal execution laws apply, he should actually be released, in a house arrest, etc. The isolation imposed upon Abdullah Öcalan has no place in law....Öcalan is not to be taken lightly. He is a smart person who accurately reads, sees, and analyzes politics," he said.

A week later on June 27, a court formally arrested Yanardağ after he was targeted by pro-government and nationalist opposition figures.

The hearing

A crowd convened in front of the Çağlayan Courthouse before the hearing and held a press conference demanding Yanardad's release. The crowd later went to the Criminal Court, where the trial took place. A commotion occurred in front of the hearing room as the presiding judge said they would allow a limited audience during the hearing, leaving a majority of the crowd outside. The hearing started one hour 20 minutes late because of the commotion.

Yanardağ took the stand first for his plea. He stated, "This case is an intimidation to those fighting for Turkey's democratization," saying he never intended to praise any terrorist organization. He also alleged that the prosecution fabricated a crime by creating a video montage, saying "I was actually criticizing the AKP government's policies. Somehow, I was portrayed as praising (PKK leader) Öcalan.”

'My words were taken out of context'

Yanardağ emphasized his detainment was based on his commentary on the interview given by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) MP Galip Ensaroğlu on Gazete Duvar, and that “his words were taken completely out of context” in the video montages produced by pro-government ‘trolls’. Yanardağ also suggested that it was MP Ensarioğlu who made propaganda of a terrorist organization and should be the one investigated instead.

Yanardağ accused the prosecution of sentencing the actor, rather than the act. Further criticizing the judicial process, he said that the judiciary was partial to one portion of the population, subjecting them to “enemy criminal law.”

Reminding of his six-month detention during the 2013 Ergenekon investigation, Yanardağ said “Those prosecutors were at least producing evidence, albeit fake.” He demanded the dismissal of the case, his acquittal, and his release.

In the final sentencing opinion, the prosecutor asked for a jail term of up to 7.5 years and continuation of Yanardağ’s detention, accusing him of “making propaganda of a terror organization.”

Yanardağ gave his concluding remarks, saying "This is a case against freedom of expression. The prosecution asking Turkey to restrict its constitutional freedoms and switch to a totalitarian regime…The prosecution is trying to create a precedent against freedom of speech. I am not saying AKP MP should be put on trial. I am simply criticizing government policy. This lawsuit is completely out of context… I demand my acquittal.”

Yanardağ's attorney later addressed the judges, saying “It is now your call. You shall decide whether the rule of law still prevails in Turkey or not.” Other attorneys demanded his acquittal, or release at the least. They stated that the prosecution was deliberately overlooking AKP MP Ensarioğlu’s remarks, as they would like to remain in the AKP’s good graces.

Two years and six months jail term and release order

The court gave its verdict after a brief discussion. They sentenced Yanardağ, who has been jailed for 101 days pending trial to two years and six months in prison while ordering his release.

The presiding judge said that the verdict was given as Yanardağ’s words “Öcalan a smart person who accurately reads, sees, and analyzes politics,” cannot be considered under freedom of expression, adding that “Öcalan’s politics have cost Turkey 40 years, and cannot be considered ‘accurate’.”

Yanardağ’s attorney Bilgütay Durna said they find the prison sentence unacceptable and will be taking it to the appeals court.