Istanbul, January 12, 2016–Turkish authorities should immediately release two Kurdish journalists jailed in southeast Turkey since last week and drop all charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The arrests follow the detentions of at least three other journalists working for pro-Kurdish news outlets in December.
Police in the southeastern city of Şırnak arrested Nedim Oruç, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), on January 6 on charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” Police in the eastern Van Province arrested Rojda Oğuz, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish, all-female Jin News Agency (JİNHA), on January 8 on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization. Both journalists are accused of being associated with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. Both deny the charges, according to police records, news reports, and those close to the investigations.
“The Turkish public has a right to information from a variety of sources and perspectives, but the government is clearly trying to stifle pro-Kurdish news outlets with these arrests,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We call on Turkish authorities to release Nedim Oruç and Rojda Oğuz without delay and to stop harassing and obstructing journalists.”
Local police arrested Oruç from the home of a relative he had been visiting in Şırnak, according to eyewitnesses cited in local press reports. According to those accounts, Oruç was among dozens of people detained in an operation in which police went door-to-door, arresting people on suspicion of being Kurdish rebels or being sympathetic to the rebels. Police confiscated the journalist’s camera, computer, and reporting notes, Oruç’s employer, DİHA, reported.
A source close to the investigation, who wished to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak about the case, told CPJ that Oruç said in his police testimony that he was in the Şehitharunbey neighborhood of Silipi District in Şırnak to report on clashes between Turkish security services and Kurdish separatists. In that document, Oruç said he filmed local residents digging trenches to prevent authorities from accessing the area, the source told CPJ. Oruç is currently held at Şırnak prison, pending trial, according to the independent news website Bianet.
Oğuz is a university student and a reporter for JİNHA. She was detained alongside other students, according to reports by her employer. Police questioned her about her social media posts, which included links to JİNHA reports as well as posts from protest rallies she said she had attended as a journalist, according to the documents of her police interrogation, which CPJ has reviewed. The journalist was also questioned about her mobile phone conversations, which had been recorded by the police, according to the documents. The tapped phone conversations were used as evidence of Oğuz’s purported connection to a student organization allegedly linked to the PKK. Oğuz denied having such a connection. She is at Van prison pending trial, her lawyer told CPJ.
The arrests come amid clashes between Turkish security forces and ethnic Kurdish insurgents in urban areas across the country’s southeast, which have intensified since the July collapse of a ceasefire between the two sides. CPJ has documented cases in which police and judicial authorities have detained and prosecuted Kurdish journalists based on vaguely worded charges under anti-terrorism legislation that authorities have read to make reporting on the activities of banned groups equivalent to propagandizing for them.