Uğur Yılmaz, a former reporter for now-shuttered Dicle News Agency (DİHA) who also worked in Batman Mayorship’s Press Department, was arrested on July 17, 2017, on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization” and “making terrorist propaganda”. The indictment cited Yılmaz’s attendance at several protests and witness statements as evidence. The journalist’s first hearing will take place on October 16, 2018.
The first hearing of journalist Uğur Yılmaz, represented by Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Legal Unit, who has been in detention for over 16 months due to his reporting, was held at Bitlis 2. High Criminal Court. The court ruled to keep Yılmaz in detention and adjourned the hearing until 11 December.
Yılmaz was arrested on July 17, 2017, based on some witness statements, his social media posts and reporting on several press statements and demonstrations. He was then a journalist working for the Bitlis Municipality Press Unit. The prosecution accuses him of “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorist propaganda”, requesting imprisonment between 9.5 and 25 years. His first hearing was held 16 months after he was arrest. The hearing was delayed due to a technical problem with the judicial conferencing system, SEGBİS. He was able to join the hearing via SEGBİS at 2 pm. from Elazığ Prison. Yılmaz was defended by three lawyers at the hearing, including MLSA Legal Unit’s Zelal Pelin Doğan. The hearing started with identity checks and continued with Yılmaz’s defense statement.
Presiding judge: Which photos did you take?
The presiding judge asked Yılmaz what his profession was. Yılmaz responded: “My profession is journalism. I have worked for Bitlis Municipality Press Unit. I had been working there since 2013, when I was dismissed by a governmental decree in 2017. I reject all accusations and witness statements against myself. They are not reflecting the truth. I am not a member of any organization and I have never aided one. I never met a member of an organization whilst I worked as a journalist either.”
The presiding judge interrupted Yılmaz and asked him whether he was present at the Ölek Cemetery. Yılmaz responded positively and noted that he was there to photograph the co-mayors of Bitlis. The judge asked, “Which photos did you take there? What were the mayors doing at the cemetery?” Yılmaz stated, “They were there to attend a funeral. As a journalist, I photographed them there.”
Afterwards, the presiding judge asked Yılmaz whether he attended the demonstrations and press statements that are presented as evidence in the indictment. Yılmaz said, “I followed them because I was a journalist at the municipal press unit. I have never carried a banner during the press statements. As you can see in the photos, I have my camera in my hand, and the press card in my pocket that I was very used to having. I was there as a journalist. I never carried a banner or shouted any slogans.” Yılmaz also noted that the social media accounts that were mentioned in the indictment were not his and that he was only the grant-holder of the website called BitlisPortal.com
Yılmaz: I have been in detention for 16 months based on abstract claims
Yılmaz stated that he would like to ask the anonymous witness some questions however did not know whether that was possible. He noted, “The statement of the anonymous witness consists of lies and conspiracy. I would like to know whom he thinks that I was delivering the letters and cargo to. I will file a lawsuit against this anonymous witness. My phone was tapped for 2 months and nothing linked me with any organization. No evidence was found when my house was raided. I did not commit a crime. There is no evidence in the indictment that I can spoliate. I have been in detention based on abstract claims. I would have run away if I wanted to before I was arrested. Besides, my eyesight is getting worse every day. The medical drugs are not working anymore, the conditions here in Elazığ Prison are very restricted. I request my release.”
Anonymous witness: I was under influence when I gave my statement
After Yılmaz’s statement, an anonymous witness joined the hearing via SEGBİS and falsified his initial statement. He said, “I do not know the defendant. I have never seen him before.” The presiding judge stated that his statement is in conflict with his initial one. The witness responded, “I was under the influence of drugs when I signed those documents.”
‘Yılmaz’s journalistic work is being tried in this case’
After Yılmaz’s statement, MLSA Legal Unit’s Zelal Pelin Doğan noted that his client has been imprisoned for over a year and that taking his statement via SEGBİS is a violation of his right to fair trial. She reminded that her client is being tried because of his journalistic work and remarked that anonymous witness statements must not be relied on as solid evidence. Doğan requested her client’s release.
Bitlis Court ruled for the continuation of detention of journalist Yılmaz and adjourned the hearing until 11 December, to complete the missing files in the indictment.