Turkey press crackdown continues with arrests of three pro-Kurdish journalists

New York, December 22, 2015–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Turkey to end its crackdown on the press. Since the release of CPJ’s annual prison census, three journalists working for pro-Kurdish outlets have been arrested in Turkey on terror accusations, according to news reports.

Zeki Karakuş, the owner of a local news website Nusaybin Haber (Nusaybin News), was arrested on December 1 on charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization,” his lawyer, Gülistan Duran, told CPJ. On December 15, Deniz Babir, a journalist with the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, was arrested on charges of belonging to a banned group, reports said. And on December 16, Beritan Canözer, a reporter with the women’s news agency JİNHA, was arrested while covering a protest in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, on charges of aiding a terrorist organization, local press reported.

Tensions are high in southeastern Turkey due to the civil war in neighboring Syria, the refugee crisis, and a resurgence of violence since the collapse of peace talks this summer between Turkish security forces and the PKK. In at least one other case, documented by CPJ last month, journalists trying to cover the tensions were rounded up and imprisoned by authorities.

“The Turkish government is never going to overcome its many complex challenges by throwing journalists in jail. Silencing news and opinion will only lead to a dangerous information vacuum,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Turkish authorities to release Beritan Canözer, Deniz Babir, and Zeki Karakuş immediately, drop all charges against them, and allow them to continue reporting on events in southeastern Turkey.”

Karakuş’s lawyer, Duran, said the journalist was summoned to a police station in the Nusaybin district of Mardin province in southeastern Turkey. When Karakuş arrived, authorities brought him before a court on accusations of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” through the media, Duran told CPJ. The court sealed the investigation into Karakuş, the lawyer said, which has prevented her from establishing the exact charges and reviewing evidence authorities say they have against her client. Karakuş, whose website focuses on pro-Kurdish local news, is being held in pretrial detention at the Mardin E Type closed prison.

Separately, Babir was arrested in the Sur district of Diyarbakır while reporting on clashes between Turkish security forces and the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H), a branch of the PKK, local press reported. CPJ’s review of court files showed that he was ordered into pretrial detention on accusations of being a member of the PKK, which is banned in Turkey. The journalist’s lawyer, Resul Tamur, told CPJ Babir denied being part of the PKK but admitted to a second charge of carrying false identification. According to Tamur, police questioned the journalist about his work. Babir is being held in Diyarbakır D Type prison.

Four other journalists–Ferit Dere and Elifcan Alkan of the pro-Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat, and Pınar Sağnaç Kalkan and Savaş Aslanwere of the pro-Kurdish political magazine Özgür Halk (Free People)–were arrested alongside Babir and released, reports said. According to the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, Dere said police questioned all four about their reporting and confiscated their cameras, notes, and voice recorders. The equipment was not returned, he said.

In the third arrest, Canözer was detained by plainclothes police officers while covering a protest over the state military campaign against the YDG-H, local press reported. According to news reports, police accused Canözer of participating in a protest, which the journalist denied. Three days later, a regional court ordered her to be held in pretrial detention on accusations of “knowingly and willingly aiding a terrorist organization,” news reports said. Canözer is being held in Diyarbakır E Type prison.

The new arrests–which bring the number imprisoned in Turkey to 17–cement Turkey’s ranking as Europe and Central Asia’s leading jailer of journalists, CPJ research shows.