Jailed media designer Yazıcı detained for slandering al-Qaeda-affiliated group  

Fevzi Yazıcı, a leading media designer in Turkey, was detained on Dec. 8, 2017 over allegedly plotting against an al-Qaeda linked Turkish group called Tahşiyeciler when he has already been behind bars on other charges for over 500 days. 

His detention was revealed when his family went to the court to follow the trial hearing that was resumed on Dec.11, 2017 and he was absent during the proceedings. Yazıcı, 45-year-old journalist, was jailed last year for allegedly sending what the prosecutor described as a subliminal message for a coup d’état in a TV commercial nine months before the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. 

When he did not show up at the trial hearing, the family members got worried and after inquiries they were told that Yazıcı was detained on separate charges and processed again by the police. It turned out that he was taken from his jail cell on Friday by the police and placed in a detention facility at a police center in İstanbul’s Vatan Street.

Fevzi Yazıcı was among 17 defendants, including Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Ilıcak, who have been accused of being members of the alleged “media arm” of the Gülen movement in hearing at the İstanbul 26th High Criminal Court on Monday. Politicised prosecutors have claimed that Altan brothers, Ilıcak and other journalists tried in the case knew of a controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and allegedly conducted propaganda to pave the way for it.

However, Fevzi Yazıcı was not allowed to attend today’s hearing by the police. Neither the family members nor his lawyer were informed about what the new charges were. They were only told that  Yazıcı is under police custody for a new investigation for defaming the al-Qaeda-affiliated group Tahşiyeciler.

A friend of Yazıcı told the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) that Yazıcı has been denied from meeting his lawyer as well. It is not known if there are other detainees or suspects within the scope of the same investigation.

Yazıcı, Art Director of Zaman daily, one-time Turkey’s largest newspaper before Turkish government’s seizure and forcible closure, was arrested on August 5, 2016 and has been languishing behind the bars since then. He was accused of being a member of a terrorist organization, attempting to overthrow the constitutional order, the Turkish government and the Turkish Parliament. 

The prosecutor seeks three consecutive life sentences for him in the indictment.

At the end of Monday’s court hearing, prosecutor has demanded life imprisonment for him in his absentia. The court is expected to announce its final decision between February 12 and 16, 2018.

SCF has previously published an extensive profile featuring Yazıcı’s case.

Turkey became acquainted with Tahşiyeciler in 2009 when police raided cells operated by the radical Islamist group and found cache of weapons and arms along in safe houses. Many of its members were arrested, charged and tried. Erdoğan government helped the group escape legal troubles in 2014 when Mehmet Doğan (a.k.a. Mollah Muhammed), the leader of the group, was vouched by then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. At the invitation of the government, several members of this radical group filed a complaint against police chiefs and prosecutors who investigated the al-Qaeda linked group and journalists who wrote critically of the group.

Based on these frivolous complaints, a pro government prosecutor ordered detention of Zaman daily’s editor-in-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, the General Director Samanyolu Broadcasting Group Hidayet Karaca and a number of police officers on December 14, 2014 on charges of defamation. 

The defendants were accused of being members of an organization that conspired against Tahşiyeciler based on a speech by US-based Turkish-Muslim scholar Fethullah Gülen in 2009 in which the scholar warned against a group that might be called Tahşiyeciler and whose leader had publicly praised Osama bin Laden.

The prosecutors who ordered the Dec. 14 detentions claim that following Gülen’s speech, Dumanlı ordered two columnists to write about Tahşiyeciler and that he published a news report on the speech. The allegations also claim that Samanyolu TV implicated the group in an episode of a soap opera it broadcast. It was further claimed that the police then “unfairly” raided the radical group.

Whereas, previous reports by police intelligence, military intelligence and the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had all described Tahşiyeciler as a terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda.

In a live broadcast on CNN Türk TV on December 20, 2014 the leader of the Tahşiyeciler group, Mehmet Doğan, stated that he liked al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

On May 23, 2016 Mehmet Kaplan, a member of Tahşiyeciler and a complainant in the case, admitted having written a book that praised suicide bombers.

The lawyers for the defendants asked Kaplan if a book titled “Reddül Evham” was written by him and he agreed that the book was his. Then the lawyers asked if he supported suicide bombers as the book does, and Kaplan answered, “I support whatever the book says.”

The lawyers reminded the court that the book says it is permissible for a suicide bomber to blow himself up even if there is a Muslim child in the area where he detonates himself.

Erdoğan government also launched a civil suit against Fethullah Gülen in the US on the complaints by Tahşiyeciler. But in June 2016, Robert Mariani, United States judge for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, dropped the case against Gülen, stating that there were no grounds for the claims brought to the court by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

The AKP had hired Amsterdam & Partners to have Gülen prosecuted in the US, claiming that members of a group called Tahşiyeciler in Turkey were unlawfully arrested in the past due to Gülen’s influence within the Turkish police force.

According to news agencies, Judge Mariani found the Turkish government’s allegations “coincidental and baseless.”

On November 3, 2017 Turkish journalist Hidayet Karaca, the General Director of now-closed Samanyolu Broadcasting Group, has been sentenced by Turkish government to 31 years in prison on charges of membership in a terrorist organization and for allegedly slandering radical Islamist Tahşiyeciler. Former police chief Ali Fuat Yılmazer was also sentenced to 16 years, six months, while former chiefs of police Yurt Atayün, Ömer Köse and Tufan Ergüder received a sentence of 25 years, six months each by the court in the same case.

It remains to be seen how the government brings charges against Yazıcı on Tahşiyeciler case when a newspaper designer, who is a highly respected and well-known name in world’s design community and a senior member of prestigious Society of News Design, has nothing to do with the editorial policy of the newspaper. 

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of December 7, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 230 are arrested pending trial, only 26 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

Turkey survived a controversial military coup attempton July 15, 2016 that killed 249 people. Immediately after the putsch, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government along with Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan pinned the blame on the Gülen movement.

Fethullah Gülen, who inspired the movement, strongly denied having any role in the failed coup and called for an international investigation into it, but President Erdoğan — calling the coup attempt “a gift from God” — and the government initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from within state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

Turkey has suspended or dismissed more than 150,000 judges, teachers, police and civil servants since July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Justice Ministry announced on July 13 that 50,510 people have been arrested and 169,013 have been the subject of legal proceedings on coup charges since the failed coup.

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