Berlin - Die Welt correspondent Deniz Yücel presented his defense statement at Amtsgericht Berlin-Tiergarten Court today. Yücel’s lawyer Veysel Ok was present in the courtroom with him. This statement will be relayed to the 32nd High Criminal Court in İstanbul where he is on trial for “making propaganda of a terrorist organization” and “inciting the public to hatred” charges.
In his statement, Yücel recounted in detail his ordeal starting from his detention as part of an investigation into a hacking scandal regarding a Turkish minister’s e-mails, his detention conditions, a shocking encounter with a prosecutor to his transportation to Silivri prison where he suffered physical abuse at the hands of guards who Yücel claims were encouraged by the Turkish president himself.
He explains the legal process against him in detail, citing a large number of unlawful practices.
Here is the full text of Deniz Yücel’s statement:
This testimony was submitted to the court in writing on 10 May 2019 in Berlin, Germany.
I know, what I say here will not bear any meaning before your court and it will have no legal consequence in contemporary Turkey. At the end of this so-called trial, you will not be the ultimate authority to decide. Your robes, chairs, chambers do not change the fact that yourselves are no less a minion than the gendarmeries who handcuffed me when they were told to “throw this one in jail” or who opened the prison doors when they were told “let this one go”. You will recall on whose orders you were acting when you signed the decision for my release at the end of my my one-year imprisonment.
Despite this, I'd like to make a point here. Like Ahmet Altan says, I will pretend that rule of law remains in place in Turkey even though I know that this is not the case. Like Ahmet Şık, I will not be making a defense statement, rather an accusation. Let my experiences go into court records. I am speaking here today to avoid giving the impression that I have no response for the accusations leveled at me, if my case is ever undertaken by an independent and reputable court which accepts the supremacy of law in the future.
I'm submitting this statement after a year's wait and after a year-long chain of scandals. I'm going to tell you about the rights violations I’ve been subject to.
1. The strange start to the adventure: On February 14, 2017, I went to the Istanbul Police Department to give testimony. I had confirmed a few days ago through my lawyers that there was an arrest warrant out for me. However, the police hadn’t summoned me, nor had they organized a dawn raid on my home, one of their favorite activities.
When I went to Vatan Avenue together with the then Consul-General of Germany Georg Birgelen, we were received by the Istanbul Police Chief Mustafa Çalışkan. Drinking tea in his office, he made remarks with veiled threats such as “Deniz Bey Bey must be very important for Germany," or "We know how much Merkel values Deniz Yücel." After this conversation, I announced that I would give my statement to the prosecutors and not to the police. And as such, I was taken into custody.
After introducing myself to someone in the next cell in the detention center, the same person called out to the other detainees, saying “Friends, we salute the journalist who asked a question to Ahmet Davutoğlu about the Cizre operations live on air”, in response to which the other detainers broke into an applause. A person being taken into custody right after having tea with the police chief and being welcomed there with an applause is quite unusual, even by Turkey’s standards of what constitutes unusual.
2. Deplorable detention conditions: I was thrown into police custody although I had gone to the Police Department of my own accord and I was kept there for 13 days with sometimes one person or sometimes two individuals in a 7-square-meter cell in a dark environment, devoid of daylight and fresh air; was served disgusting canned food; denied tea, coffee or cigarettes in a setting where there was only one shower per 120 people and where the filthy toilets were accessible only under severe restrictions. Although I was driven to a hospital every day to get a health report, most of the doctors there would just look me me in the face and ask “Have you been physically abused?”. I had to put up a fight to be medically examined when I got sick under these bad conditions. Although I witnessed some ill-treatment of other detainees at the hands of some officers, the police officers in charge of the detention center and who were assigned to me treated me humanly. But this could not change the terrible conditions that existed.
3. Disgrace at the prosecutor’s office: An arrest warrant had been issued for me regarding the hacking of the emails of the Minister of Energy at the time and Erdogan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak by the RedHack group and these emails being leaked to the press, but the Istanbul Deputy Chief Prosecutor Hasan Yılmaz, when hearing my testimony, almost asked nothing about the Albayrak/Redhack issue. Instead, I was confronted by my columns and news reports printed in Die Welt, where I am the Turkey correspondent, as elements of crime. The prosecutor's method was not to find the offender of a crime in keeping with the norms of universal law; but rather it was to declare me guilty and make up a crime. But the accusations about me are ludicrous; nothing about them can be taken seriously. I will not discredit myself here by explaining why my work is in keeping with general journalism standards; nor will I disrespect my own heartfelt and conscientious labors;I will not act as if I have to defend my news reports, observations and columns before the law. It is not journalism; but criminalizing journalism that is a crime.
4. The translation/logic fiasco: The translations from German to Turkish presented to me by the prosecutor were a complete farce. They were full of errors. In addition to this, some important parts of these writings were omitted in a way that distorted the meaning of what was being said and phrases that didn’t exist in the original articles had been added at other parts. To top it all, all of the translation errors were working against me without a single exception. In other words, it was not only about lack of language competency but also malicious intent. My lawyer will later submit these translation errors to the court in detail. For now, two examples will suffice.
In one of the articles that was considered to be an element of crime, I had recounted the satirical story titled “Don’t let the Kurd see his mother”, which criticized the discrimination and inequality suffered by citizens of Kurdish ethnicity in Turkey. The prosecutor shamelessly considered this story, which criticizes discrimination, as a crime of “inciting the people to hatred and hostility”. Aside from this ridiculous situation, he left my question “How could I possibly incite and which public to hatred and hostility with an article that was published in German and in Germany?” unanswered.
In another part of the interrogation, the prosecutor said “You have referred to Abdullah Öcalan as the 'Commander-in-Chief of the PKK'. "Where have I written that?" I asked. After he showed me my original article in German, I showed the phrase in my article and I said, “It says here ‘PKK-Chef’. One doesn’t need to speak any German to understand that the Turkish word for ‘chef’ in German is ‘chief’ and not ‘commander-in-chief’. He just gave me a blank look. Much later, when a former police chief whom I met in prison told me that “he is the most retarded prosecutor at Çağlayan court house”, what choice did I have but to agree?
5. The absurd hearing: At the Istanbul 9th Criminal Court of Peace, the judge who conducted the hearing, Mustafa Çakar was more polite. Yet he did not act like a judge, but rather as a partisan acting on behalf of those in power. He interrupted my statement countless times. It was as if we were not in court, but in a panel discussion. In the end, I had to say, "Your Honor, I do not agree with your opinion and it is not a crime not to agree with you". There were neither any reasonable grounds for suspicion of obscuring evidence, nor was I a flight risk. And the accusations against me -- namely “conducting propaganda of a terrorist organization” and “inciting the public to hatred and hostility” were not listed among the crimes that the law called for detention. But the decision had been given in advance. I was placed under arrest.
6. Copy-paste rulings: The Criminal Courts of Peace which routinely reviewed my detention status, decided to continue my imprisonment by issuing rulings that were copied and pasted from earlier similar rulings. The objections of my lawyers were never even read by any of these judges. How do I know that? I do, because my lawyer, Veysel Ok, upon my request, listed our usual arguments for release in the first three pages of the appeal that he submitted on 6 October 2017, and after the third paragraph he inserted a two-page article on the “infrastructure problem of Turkish football” published by the website Sendika.org
Many times, we hear or read the following words from many soccer fans: 'Infrastructure is important.' This article inserted into the objection to my detention which started with the sentence “There cannot be a superstructure without any infrastructure” would have caught the reader’s attention if it had been read. But it didn’t, because it was not read. The appeal was rejected by Yasin Karaca, the judge of the 3rd Criminal Court of Peace. The phrase “Reviewed by the Court” stamped on the ruling was more ironic than ever. But in reality , this was a grave indication of the indifference and unseriousness courts display when deciding about people's lives.
And the Turkish Constitutional Court, by not reviewing my application within the two years after it was lodged, displayed another example of neglectfulness.
7. Severe isolation: I was placed in solitary confinement in Silivri Prison No. 9 , officially known as the Silivri Closed Correctional Facility. It wasn't only that I was in a single-person cell, I wouldn't have minded if that was all. However, under State of Emergency rules, prisoner rights such as socializing with other inmates, chatting, using the exercise yard at the same time with others were completely suspended. I had no chance of meeting anyone other than my lawyers, and other than the one-hour per week family visits that usually occurred from behind a glass wall and which were limited to first-degree relatives only. A few months later, I was alone again when I was allowed to use the exercise yard once a week.
Isolation is a form of torture which damages the spiritual and physical integrity of a person; also referred to as “white torture”. I spent nine months of my one-year-long hostageship under severe isolation. And of course, isolation has affected my spiritual and bodily integrity.
I was alone in the tiny courtyard where the back door of my cell opened. The top of the courtyard, surrounded by high walls and barbed wires, was also covered with wire fence. Even the tiny glimpse I could get of the sky would be through wire fence. That was the harshest of all the cruelty I have endured.
Another aspect of the isolation I was subject to was that the letters I wrote were not sent to their addressees and those written to me were never delivered. However, after a long fight, deliveries of letters from my wife, my parents and my father-in-law began. In the end, only a few of the thousand of letters and postcards sent to me were given to me. These were not given to me even at the time I was released from prison. These were unlawfully confiscated or, again, unlawfully destroyed.
8. Being targeted: My detention and subsequent arrest was severely criticized by the German public and government; and condemned by the opposition in Turkey. At that time, the Turkish government didn’t make any statement on the issue, nor did the pro-government media reported any worthwhile news reports. At Least not until three days after my arrest, when a government bulletin named Star referred to me as "a PKK hitman, not a journalist" in its main story and launched a smear campaign about me.
It was quite obvious that the purpose behind arresting me had been served, and the ban on AKP politicians from delivering speeches in Germany as part of their constitutional referendum campaign was on the media’s agenda. The next day, on 3 March 2017, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan publicly spoke about me for the first time at the “Phoenix Award Ceremony” (no clue why that occasion could have been chosen) organized by Yeşilay in Istanbul. He associated my arrest with Germany’s decision to ban AKP politicians from holding referendum rallies in Germany and accused me of being a being a “representative of the PKK” and a “German spy.” He did this again on 5 March 2015, at the “Night of Tokat Residents” event (again, I never could see the relevance). Then he put into daily usage the word “agent-terrorist” that he had coined for me. On 13 April 2017, in interviews he gave to Beyaz TV and two other television networks, he said, “We have footage, we have everything. And this one is completely an agent-terrorist.”
In other words, I was targeted by the topmost person in the state system and I was subjected to an extrajudicial killing. And this individual directed the judiciary and the prosecution, and not in a covert way but quite openly so. In today’s Turkey, can there be a prosecutor or a court which can prepare an indictment without Erdoğan’s approval about the person whom the president declared “he is currently in prison, this is how it will continue.” Of course not.
Defamation and slander from the topmost person in the government was accompanied by the smear campaign of the media. Sometimes it got tragicomical. But it wasn't funny seeing my wife, friends and lawyer being targeted along with me .
9. The real reason behind my arrest: Since I started working as the Turkey correspondent for Die Welt newspaper in May 2015, I had already been blacklisted. At the Akçakale border crossing, I was detained for asking a question at a press conference to the Urfa governor; and at another time I was targeted by the government and its media for asking a question at a press conference held by then Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Chancellor Angela Merkel in Ankara (and again this question was translated into Turkish inadequately/incorrectly). As a dual citizen, I could have easily left Turkey. I did not leave. I stayed in Turkey both because I believe that journalism is needed most in difficult conditions and because I am emotionally connected to this country.
I was then coincidentally included in the Redhack / Albayrak investigation. This situation was seen as an opportunity to deter all members of the foreign press in Turkey in addition to the continued intimidation policy used on the Turkish press. The other reason for my arrest was to create an artificial tension with Germany for the referendum campaign on constitutional amendments and then benefit from this tension.
10. Torture: There exist some strictly applied procedures in Silivri 9 High Security Prison. For example, if an inmate is to be taken to the infirmary, or to be taken to family or lawyer visitation, the correctional officer on duty in that section comes to the cell door together with the guard who is on watch duty in the hallway and who is responsible for a certain segment of the ward. It is always clear who will conduct the body search, who will be accompanying the the prisoner and this never changes. This procedure was also applied to me when I was taken to Silivri Prison on 1 March 2017 and twice when I was being visited by parliamentarians.
But after the president targeted me in his speeches on 3 March, Friday and then again on 5 March Sunday, six guards arrived at my door on Monday 6 March. This group consisted of a superior officer named Mustafa Aydın and correctional officers Osman Andıç, Fırat Koçoğlu, Bilgican Kodal, Adem Yada and a sixth individual whose identity couldn’t be established by the prosecutor’s office. (I am exposing these names because everyone is responsible for their own deeds). They did the body search with a rudeness I had never encountered earlier. They spoke with insults calling me such names as “traitor” and ”German spy“. They were repeating the exact same insults that the president had hurled at me.
On that day, I was surrounded by six people along the route where I would normally be accompanied by a single guard. When we stepped out into the hallway, one guard was shouting at me to “hurry up” while another one was yelling at me to “slow down”.. They asked me to put my head down and rub my shoulder against the wall as I walked. I am embarrassed to admit it,but I followed this instruction. I was so new to prison, I was alone and I was shocked at what was happening to me.
All routine procedures were suspended in Silivri. From that day on, the same six guards started taking me to everywhere. The second day, when I was taken out for a family visit, the dose of the insults and threats increased. I was asked to bend my head in the hallway again. While we were walking by a trash can one of the guards threatened me saying, “I will make you salute the garbage can. You will say to it ‘Hello garbage friend.’ Because you are garbage yourself.”
On my return from the family visitation, there was a dialogue between the same six guards which went: “Yes, let's enter his cell at a time he would never expect.” About two-or three hours after hearing this conversation, the group of six entered my cell through the courtyard door. Until that time, I had never seen a scheduled cell search. I learned much later that these searches had to be conducted in the presence of gendarmes. Even if your cell is not a place of your own choosing, it still is your living space. It is always unnerving for a large group to invade your privacy, to feel themselves entitled to go through and search every item. However, I've never been subjected to extremely rude behavior in these searches that I encountered many times later.
On that day hower, the situation was different. Again the same six people had come, making a mess of my belongings, and forcing me to throw away a few clippings from newspapers that I had kept -- - which were the only thing I had with any emotional value -- and hurling curses at me again. And, unlike in the hallways, there are no cameras inside the cells, I was beaten for the first time with kicks in my feet and punches on my chest and back. The dosage of the violence was not too high. It was intended to humiliate and scare me rather than causing bodily pain, and maybe they were provoking me to respond. Whatever it was that I experienced, it was torture.
In this country, I used to feel ashamed to describe the physical violence that I was subject to as “torture,” whenever I thought of the atrocities endured by people in different places from the Sansaryan Han building and Diyarbakır No. 5 Military Prison to the Erenköy Pavilion or the “Deep Research Laboratory.” But what makes torture what it is, is not the severity of the violence or the brutality of treatment. There is also a psychological dimension. Its execution is carried out in an organized fashion. It is executed systematically to undermine human dignity to and to intimidate the victim. It is a practice where the bodily and emotional integrity of the victim, even his safety of life, is completely at the hands of the cruel, in the absence of any rules that he can trust. And there is no guarantee that one’s tormentors will not, in the future, surpass the limits that they are imposing on themselves for now. The victim is entirely left to the whims of his tormentors.
As a matter of fact, the level of violence rose on the third day. I got hit in the face. I was walking towards the infirmary before this attack. They had asked me to bow my head during this walk but I resisted this time. I wiped away the shame of having obeyed this order for two days straight, which is something that I cannot see myself doing. Throughout the walk, one of the guards threatened me saying “Bow your head, or I know how to make you bow.” He added that he would have me salute the trash can again. On the staircase without cameras, I was pushed against the wall and beaten up by punches to my head.
They put me in a library room, which had no security cameras, because there was another prisoner in the infirmary. There the officer in charge noticed that something was off, but he hid behind the bookshelves. One of these guards slapped me in the face twice, then started to stroke my cheeks. Another asked, “How much do the Germans pay you to betray your homeland?” Per usual, I did not answer such a provocative question. As I kept quiet, the officer kept on going: “Answer me or I will cut your tongue!”
Uğur Bey, the doctor whose last name I did not know on that day, was on duty at the infirmary. As soon as I entered the infirmary, I told him that I was beaten by these people and pointed to the person who hit me in the library in particular. Uğur Bey removed these guards from the room upon my request. He listened to me and told me that he would draft a medical report about this incident. However, at the end of the medical exam I forgot to remind him of the report because of the highly stressful experience I had gone through. The slaps were not strong enough to leave any marks on my face. I requested the doctor to walk me on the way back. He did not come himself but sent the correctional officer assigned to infirmary duty with me. (Additionally,, that officer was supposed to take me from the cell and bring me to the infirmary in the first place.) Those six people kept on following me but this time they confined themselves to calling me “traitor,” which was something I had already gotten used to.
When they came to get me for my lawyer’s visit, one of these men called to me from the outside even before the door was opened: “Don’t complain about us again, it won’t do you any good. You will only make us more angry!” It was obvious that they trusted in something, that they were backed by the authorities. They asked me to bow my head again but I silently resisted. On the way, that person who hit me in the library said, “That finger of yours that you pointed to me with, I will shove that finger up your mouth and then to some place else… Then… You will see…” Sexual fantasies were mixing inside the threats. The same person kept going, “We did not hit you, we only caressed you. You don’t know what violence is. But if you want to learn about it, we’d be happy to show you.” The superior officer and a guard were having another conversation a few steps away: --“This one is too calm, he doesn’t respond at all.” -- “I wish he did, then we could put him back to his place.” The guard who could not hold back his violent and sexual fantasies said, “Whatever, let him stay quiet. I will take him to a place where there are no cameras.”
After assessing the situation with my lawyers, my lawyer Veysel Ok talked to the chief guard and demanded this group to be taken off of me. Two out of the six did not accompany me during the walk back. The other four remained with me. As soon as I got out of the meeting with my lawyers, I was squeezed into the corner of the wall in a narrow corridor between the meeting cabins and the main corridor, where there were no cameras, and I got punched on the shoulder.
The prison procedures were suspended and all ill-treatment, except the physical violence, took place in front of the cameras, before everyone’s eyes. It was not possible for the director of the prison, Ali Demirtaş, and other high-profile officials to remain unaware of what was going on. Could he have ordered this? I do not think so. Because at a time when tens of thousands of civil servants were dismissed by Cabinet Decrees and former governors, police chiefs, high judicial officers were being arrested one by one, when everyone who worked for the state feared asking themselves “Will I be next?” -- I find it highly unlikely that a prison director would be able to take any initiative about me, someone who has personally been targeted by the president of the country. In my opinion, no one except the president himself (or his inner circle), would be able to take initiative about this special treatment.
But what could be the purpose of this? Didn't they think that we could expose this practice to the public? This doesn’t seem possible to me. It was more likely that this was exactly what they desired. Probably their aim was to further escalate the tension with Germany following my arrest and use the reactions of the German government for the referendum campaign. News stories with headlines such as “German citizen arrested in Turkey” caused strong reactions in Germany and it was not difficult to predict what impact something like “German journalist tortured in Turkey” would have.
That's why we decided to follow a different strategy with my lawyers. Instead of taking their bait, getting provoked and sharing this issue with the public, we tried to resolve the problem through political and diplomatic means. We got in touch with top-level representatives of the German government and one politician from Turkey in order to initiate this process. I do not know how this process played out exactly, but we did get results. The next day those six guards disappeared and everything went back to normal. Two days later, Turkish Minister of Labor and Social Security went on to her Rotterdam adventure and the big crisis that they tried to initiate with Germany was instead created with the Netherlands.
My lawyers will present the message Enis Yavuz Yıldırım, General Director of Prisons and Detention Houses at the time, sent to our intermediary, assuring that the concerned personnel have been taken away from me, to the court.
I did not encounter a similar treatment in Silivri Prison after that. Some of the correctional officers were smiling and polite, some of them were more distant or rude, but I was not exposed to any maltreatment at all. I'm not angry with the prison staff at all. But I want to file a complaint against these specific people.
We filed a criminal complaint about the guards back in those days. Silivri Prosecutor’s Office had launched an investigation but ruled for a nonsuit even before taking my testimony. Then we appealed to the court. On 16 February 2018, the day of my release, our appeal was still pending review. In my application to the European Court of Human Rights, I disclosed the torture. However, since there was an ongoing investigation, I never mentioned this in the articles I wrote from prison or any of the interviews I gave. After I was released and after the Silivri Criminal Court of Peace dismissed our complaint about the guards and rejected our appeal against this decision, I still remained quiet. Because the only place to talk about it was the court. It was here.
Therefore, I am openly talking about this for the first time: I was tortured at Silivri No. 9 Closed Prison for three days. Perhaps the order came from the President of the Republic of Turkey himself, or someone from his inner circle. In any case, I was targeted by him and I was tortured while I was under his responsibility. In one way or another, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is the number one person who is responsible for what I went through.
11. Hostage bargaining: Tayyip Erdoğan said something else during the television interview from 13 April 2017, which I mentioned above. When the anchor asked, “We’re not giving him back?” Erdoğan replied, “Absolutely not. Not as long as I am in this position, on this duty.” However, I never requested to be returned to Germany. As I tried to make my voice heard from the prison many times, my sole demand was to go through a timely and fair trial process. However, for the president, his statement was the first step of a bargain process. As an evident result of his mentality, which is the combination of İstanbul’s parking lot mafia and Kayseri’s carpet merchants, he must have thought, “If this man is too precious for Germany, we should not sell him at a cheap price.”
Just like a gangster, he presented demands such as extradition of former military officers who had taken refuge in Germany and were accused of being members of the Gulen organization. Just like he proposed a hostage swap with the United States by saying “Give the preacher, take the preacher,” -- the offer to release Andrew Brunson in exchange of Fethullah Gülen’s return. “There are too many Denizes in Germany,” he said. However, there were no journalists who were imprisoned for their news stories and statements in Germany. In short, Tayyip Erdoğan used the members of the judiciary as his accomplices in order to hold me hostage for a year without an indictment.
12. The disgraceful indictment: In the end, a three-page monstrosity that Prosecutor Yılmaz dared to call “an indictment” was submitted. There was neither the “footage” that Erdoğan claimed existed (it couldn’t be in the indictment because that footage does not exist), nor any piece of evidence that would be considered significant in the eye of law. There were mostly official letters that were written during the arrest. I would like to mention two new documents that have been added to the case file recently.
In one of these documents, me using the term “Armenian genocide” was presented as criminal evidence against me. Yes, I have used this term. I cannot call genocide a basketball game. Criminalizing this historical fact does not change history itself. Moreover, although the majority of the Turkish society denies this truth, everybody is actually aware of everything. I was reporting on the demonstration that took place in front of the German Consulate in Taksim, İstanbul on the day when the German Federal Parliament recognized the Armenian Genocide and their own role in it as accomplices. The group that gathered in front of the Consulate chanted “Genocide is a lie, it will remain a lie!” Then they went on to chant, “The best Armenian is a dead Armenian.” This is a schizophrenic mindset that dares to say “The genocide did not take place, but if need be we would be happy to do it again.” Turkey cannot truly reach the level of contemporary civilization unless it confronts this historical fact.
The second document that entered the file is an imaginary article that was published in Die Welt on 24 July 2016. The prosecutor alleges that in this article I accuse security forces of committing “ethnic cleansing” during the military operations organized against the PKK. If I had solid proof to make such claims, I wouldn’t hesitate to use that term. However, I did not have any solid proof to make such claims and I’ve never used the term “ethnic cleansing” in any of my articles. This is not just a mistranslation issue, this is the prosecutor openly lying. (The prosecutor did not include any of my articles into the file as “evidence” because he was perhaps worried that his lie would be exposed.)
13. Scandalous telephone list: The only new evidence added by the prosecutor to the file is the list of telephone calls I made between 2014-2017. Aside from the people I don't know, most of the people mentioned in this list are my journalist colleagues. Or they are my news sources such as lawyers, academics, NGO workers, members of parliament and their deputy advisors. Have I been kept in prison for one year only for them to reveal that I’ve been talking to these people on the phone?
In this report, many people have been labeled as “terror suspects” based on unknown sources without relying on any court decision. Although there was no proof of anything, I was brought under suspicion because of these people, and they have become suspects because of me. Some of the indictments drafted against journalists in Turkey had phrases like “the suspect has been in contact with Deniz Yücel” as if there is such a crime, as if the Turkish Penal Code says “saying hi to this man shall be punished with a prison sentence up to three years.”
Moreover, the police report does not match the numbers in the indictment. In the police report, there is a total of 64 people in this list once we remove those who were listed twice by error. Our good friend the prosecutor could not even manage to write about this number without error and wrote “59 different people” in the indictment.
14. Unlawful release from prison: Turkey has witnessed numerous unlawful arrests in recent history. However, Turkey has experienced the first unlawful release from prison with me. There is no need for me to describe this process to the panel of judges because they have been part of this process by serving as pawns of the government. Let me explain it just to have it on record: On 14 February 2018, Binali Yıldırım, who was Prime Minister at the time, said: “I hope that he will be released soon. I believe that new developments will take place shortly” during an interview with the German ARD TV.
The next day, on the day that Yıldırım met German Chancellor Angela Merkel, representatives from the German Consulate in İstanbul visited me in Silivri and said the following: “The Turkish side is ready to release you but on one condition: you need to leave the country immediately and quietly. The German government is ready to assist you with this process and will provide a plane to take you back to Germany.” I replied, “I’ll go to jail as the Turkish government pleases, then I will be released whenever they please and keep quiet about this whole thing. Do you think that I would accept that? I cannot accept this” and rejected this offer. Moreover, I am a journalist, I was not a civil servant of the German government. Why would I get on a plane sent by the German government? Hence, I thanked them for their kind offer and refused it. This way, Binali Yıldırım could not offer my release as a gift during his visit to Germany. It was obvious that Yıldırım was appointed to this duty by Erdoğan himself in order to avoid swallowing his own words.
The next day, on 16 February 2018, the Springer media group that I worked for intervened and said that they would provide a plane for me. I accepted to leave the country on the same day but refused the “immediately and quietly” part. German Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigmar Gabriel relayed this message to his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and he passed it on to whomever he did. As a result of this chain of communication, it seemed like İstanbul 32nd High Criminal Court ordered my release. This court, whom Ömer Günaydın presides over, obeyed the orders and issued this order.
This is not the place to explain why I agreed to leave the country. I want to make another point here: the Turkish government would have never let me go if they had really wanted to put me on trial, if they had really believed that I have committed a crime punishable with 18 years. This state issues judicial control measures for my colleagues or other political prisoners once they are released, issues travel bans on their behalf and forbids them from leaving the country. On the contrary, they forced me to leave. Being put in prison was a violation of my rights, but this whole process resulted in me being thrown out of my country of citizenship, which is another human rights’ violation.
15. Bargaining claim: It is true that the Turkish government and Tayyip Erdoğan himself attempted to conduct hostage negotiations on my behalf. And yes, I have clearly stated even while I was in prison that “I would not be a part of these dirty negotiations.” However, according to all available information, such a bargain never took place. I was not released in exchange of anything: no one was extradited, no weapons were handed over. The only thing Turkey got out of my release was decreasing the political tension and the beginning of a so-called “normalization” process. Turkish government had to resolve the tension with the German government because of their economic troubles. My release was necessary to normalize relations with Germany. The German government showed this determination and with the solidarity of German media, especially my own newspaper Die Welt, and the campaign my friends launched, they were able to initiate powerful public pressure by mobilizing countless citizens. I am eternally grateful for this tremendous support.
Countless people have paid graver prices for democracy, freedom and equality in Turkey. I have colleagues who lost their lives to practice journalism with dignity. My experience is insignificant compared to their suffering. Your verdict has no value. But this won’t go on like this. Those who played a role in my ordeal and in many other situations where thousands of citizens’ rights are violated will be held accountable before courts.
And of course everything will be fine.
İlker Deniz Yücel
Berlin, 10 May 2019
(Translated from Turkish by: Barış Altıntaş and Ece Koçak)