Istanbul, November 18, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the arrests of two reporters from pro-Kurdish news agencies on Friday. Idris Yılmaz, of Dicle News Agency, and Vildan Atmaca, of the women’s news agency JİNHA, were detained in the Erciş district of Van, a city in eastern Turkey, according to reports.
Authorities accused Yılmaz and Atmaca of “making terrorist propaganda” for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on social media and Yılmaz was also accused of insulting the president on social media, according to documents from the police, prosecutor, and court that were reviewed by CPJ. On Saturday, a court ordered the two reporters to be held pending an investigation, reports said.
Turkish authorities use the country’s broad anti-terror laws to prosecute journalists who cover sensitive topics, including Kurdish issues and banned organizations such as the PKK, CPJ has found. CPJ has documented how Turkey has used anti-terror laws for years to imprison journalists and has recently been cracking down on social media posts, particularly those related to the country’s insult laws. In this case, authorities appear to have combined these two tactics.
“We call on Turkish authorities to immediately release Idris Yılmaz and Vildan Atmaca and stop using social media posts as a pretext to harass and jail critical journalists,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Expressing views on Facebook and Twitter do not amount to criminal activity, and imprisoning reporters for what they post online is incompatible with democratic governance.”
According to Yılmaz’s police testimony, which CPJ has reviewed, the journalist said he and Atmaca were among a group of reporters who had been turned away from a local hospital by police after trying to investigate claims that residents had been injured by Turkish soldiers. Since a fragile ceasefire between Turkish authorities and PKK fighters ended in July, clashes between security forces and rebels have become frequent in eastern and southeastern Turkey, according to reports.
Yılmaz’s testimony says that later that day he and Atmaca were at a café with journalists from other news outlets when plain-clothed police approached and said they were detaining Yılmaz for “producing biased news.” Several journalists who stood up for Yılmaz were arrested alongside him but, with the exception of Atmaca, the others were released Saturday, according to reports. In a video showing the arrests, which was posted to YouTube by Van TV Friday, police are seen shooting in the air to disperse a crowd.
According to police and court documents that CPJ viewed, Yılmaz was accused of creating terrorism propaganda and running a pro-PKK Facebook page called Ajans Erciş. The reporter stated in police testimony that he had no links to the Facebook page. Yılmaz was questioned about Facebook posts he allegedly made on his personal account that authorities said were pro-PKK, according to the documents. The reporter denied that the posts were terrorist propaganda.
Yılmaz was also accused of insulting the president through a cartoon posted to his personal Facebook page that showed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defecating on a map of Turkey, according to the documents. In testimony before the Erciş Chief Prosecutor’s Office on Friday, the journalist said he did not accept any of the accusations made against him and said he did not think the figure featured in the cartoon looked like the president.
According to police testimony reviewed by CPJ, Atmaca was questioned about posts on her personal Facebook page dated August 2014, including a quote from a convicted PKK leader that authorities claimed conveyed sympathies for the organization. She was also questioned about a tweet dated October 14, 2015, in which she criticized Van police for allegedly firing on civilians. Atmaca denied the social media posts were terrorist propaganda, according to her testimony.