A prominent newspaper layout designer who has been jailed since August 5, 2016 on trumped-up charges is set to appear for a fifth hearing in a sham trial in Turkey along with 16 journalists on Tuesday.
Fevzi Yazıcı, a 45-year old design director of Zaman daily, one-time Turkey’s largest newspaper before Turkish government’s seizure and forcible closure, will defend himself against the absurd charges of terrorism in one of the landmark press freedom cases in Turkey. He was detained on July 27, 2016, arrested on August 5, 2016 and has been languishing behind the bars of notorious Turkish prison in İstanbul’s Silivri.
Yazıcı is a highly respected and well-known name in world’s design community. As a senior member of SND (Society of News Design), his artistic work in page layouts and designs has earned him 119 Awards of Excellence and three Silver Medals since 2003 in worldwide competition among top-notch newspapers. He was also one of the supporters of SND, sponsoring several events in Turkey and attending SND annual workshop since 2003.
SND issued a written statement following Yazıcı’s arrest and expressed its concern over the media freedom in Turkey. Former SND president David Kordalski had said that “The plight of my friend Fevzi Yazıcı and the other brave journalists in Turkey is a stark reminder that it’s more important than ever to fight for the unfettered flow of information.”
Mario García, a leading figure in news design and adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism, published a statement on his personal blog: “Those of us in the design community who know, admire and have worked with Fevzi Yazıcı, are saddened to hear of his arrest. Fevzi is not just the talented art director of Zaman, one of the best designed newspapers in the world, but also a tireless organizer of design conferences to encourage the study of newspaper/editorial design, a passion that he shared with the rest of the world via his annual +1T Design Days conference in İstanbul. I, like many other designers from around the world, have been honored to speak at this conference and that is how we got to know about Fevzi and the incredibly good work he has carried out,” said García.
Yazıcı was caught amid massive and unprecedented crackdown on the free and independent media in Turkey by the government of autocratic President Recep Tayip Erdoğan that has jailed 284 journalists and is seeking to arrest an additional 135 on fabricated charges of terrorism, coup plotting and espionage.
Like in most journalist cases, Yazıcı is also 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 penned by the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office in April 2017, Yazıcı is also charged with being a member of a journalists’ union, namely, Pak-İş Medya Sendikası which was shut down by the government following controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. The union was duly registered entity, recognized by the government and authorized to organize union work and recruit memberships among media professionals, journalists and authors.
The increase of 22,363.97 Turkish liras (around $6,500) in his personal account at Bank Asya between December 31, 2013 and December 24, 2014 in which his company was depositing his payroll was also cited as criminal evidence that proved his connection to a terrorist group in the indictment. In a further twist, the prosecutor also mentioned an increase of 1,478.84 Turkish liras (around $430) at Yazıcı’s wife’s account at the same bank during the same period as if that is somehow another proof of crime.
A recent report published by Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), an advocacy group that tracks rights violations in Turkey, has revealed that being a client of Bank Asya affiliated with Gülen movement, which was one of the three banks with the highest liquidity in Turkey until it was unlawfully seized by the government in May 2015, is a pretext evidence widely used by Turkish courts to jail critics and opponents in Erdoğan’s regime.
Yazıcı has been also accused of “sending a subliminal message for a coup d’état” in a TV commercial aired on behalf of the paper approximately nine months before the failed coup attempt along with Yakup Şimşek, the Brand Marketing Director of the Zaman daily, and Tibet Sanlıman, owner of Vietnam, a creative advertising company. The ad was part of promotional campaign by Zaman daily to attract new readers.
The commercial aired about 40 days on TV networks and nobody had expressed any concern or launched any investigation at the time. In fact, there is no such provision in Turkish Penal Code as sending subliminal message. In the fourth hearing on June 23, 2017, Yazıcı’s lawyer said his client has been behind bars for months just for watching the commercial before it went viral.
During previous hearings Fevzi Yazıcı denied accusations. “I am a journalist. I am an artist. I have nothing to do with coup attempt. Zaman was a newspaper that was taking adds from public and governmental institutions, moreover government leaders were giving interviews to, at the time I was working there,” said senior design director.
Yazıcı has been an advocate of creative new designs for the Turkish press. Zaman was his pet project when the daily tapped him to use his talent to redesign the newspaper in a new revolutionary layout and brought him from the US in 2002. His creative works rattled Turkish media community initially that wanted to stick to the traditional page layouts and criticized new experiments on page designs. Yet he managed to turn Zaman into an international brand among news designers, bringing Zaman and its sister publications numerous international awards. He is the architect of Newspaper Design Days, a weeklong unique symposium that attracted hundreds of students from all over Turkey and brought talented designers from all over the world.
Ironically, Yazıcı was the one who voluntarily led the re-design team for Star daily, a pro-government newspaper in 2009 when then editor-in-chief Mustafa Karaalioğlu asked for his help. The same daily brands him as terrorist now.
The other defendants who appeared in the indictment are former Zaman daily editor-on-chief Ekrem Dumanlı, former Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Keneş, Samanyolu TV Washington representative Şemsettin Efe, Zaman daily journalist Abdülkerim Balcı, Zaman former deputy editor-in-chief Mehmet Kamış, Zaman executive Faruk Kardıç, Zaman culture and arts editor Ali Çolak, journalists Nazlı Ilıcak, Ahmet Altan and Mehmet Altan, Professor Osman Özsoy and academic Şükrü Tuğrul Özşengül. Of these, six were arrested, one released pending trial and others remain at large.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 284 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 18, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 259 are arrested pending trial, only 25 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.
zDetaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled.