Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls again for the immediate release of Deniz Yücel, a journalist with German and Turkish dual nationality who was arrested exactly one year ago today. Die Welt’s Istanbul correspondent, Yücel has been held all this time without being charged. RSF regards him as hostage to Turkey’s troubled relations with Germany.
Yücel was arrested when he went to the police on 14 February 2017 after learning that an arrest warrant had been issued for several journalists, including himself, who had written stories about leaked information implicating energy minister Berat Albayrak, President Erdoğan’s son-in-law.
After two weeks in police custody, Yücel was placed in provisional detention in a high security prison in the Istanbul suburb of Silivri. A year has gone by since then but he has not been charged. The investigation has until now concentrated on an interview he conducted with a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and on posts on social networks.
But government statements suggest that he could be the target of other accusations. This impression has been reinforced by President Erdoğan frequent references to him as a “traitor,” “spy” or “terrorist,” in flagrant violation of the right to be presumed innocent.
“It is clear that the Turkish authorities are using Deniz Yücel as a hostage in their diplomatic crisis with Germany,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s representative in Turkey. “His baseless detention violates all the principles of Turkish law and the international conventions ratified by Turkey. This reporter has already spent 365 days too many behind bars. He must be freed at once.”
Born in Germany of Turkish parents and now aged 44, Yücel had to wait for two months after his arrest to be allowed a visit by a German consular representative. He spent a long time under a regime of strict isolation, with a drastic restriction on visits by his family and his lawyer, and a ban on sending and receiving letters. These measures were not lifted until the end of 2017.
His lawyers have asked the constitutional court to rule that his provisional detention is illegal, but the court has yet to respond. When asked, according to procedure, about his detention, the government replied that he was not jailed because of his journalistic activities but because of his “propaganda for a terrorist organization” – the PKK.
The constitutional court raised hopes on 11 January when it issued its first ruling on the many cases of journalists imprisoned under the state of emergency. In the case of two of these journalists, Şahin Alpay and Mehmet Altan, the court ordered their immediate release. The decision should have set a precedent for Yücel and all the other detained journalists but the lower courts have so far refused to carry it out.
This deadlock has enhanced the importance of the role that the European Court of Human Rights could play, a role that RSF already stressed during a demonstration in Strasbourg in May 2017. The European Court agreed to urgently examine the application filed by Yücel and around 20 other journalists detained in Turkey, but it still has not issued a decision.
RSF and 12 other organizations that defend freedom of expression registered as interested third parties in these cases in October.
Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.