CPJ concerned for safety of injured journalist trapped in Turkish city

New York, February 4, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned for the safety of Rohat Aktaş, a news editor and reporter for the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, who has been trapped in the southeastern town of Cizre with a gunshot wound since January 22.

Aktaş, whose paper is based in Diyarbakir, was shot in the arm while reporting on efforts to help those wounded during clashes between Kurdish separatists and Turkish forces, his editor, Zeynel Bulut, told CPJ. Bulut said Aktaş is trapped with dozens of others and that the newsroom has lost communication with him. “He called his family two days after he was shot and said he was wounded in the left arm,” Bulut told CPJ on February 3. The newsroom confirmed to CPJ today there has been no communication with Aktaş for five days. Aktaş was injured when Turkish forces fired on a group that was trying to help injured civilians, according to reports and Bulut.

In a separate case, Refik Tekin, a Diyarbakir-based cameraman with the pro-Kurdish outlet İMC TV, told CPJ he was shot in the leg while reporting on clashes in Cizre on January 20. Authorities issued an order for Tekin to be questioned on suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization and a police guard was stationed outside his hospital room, according to reports. Tekin told CPJ that when he was discharged, he was questioned by police who asked what he was doing in the city and what his job was. He said police released him after the testimony and he is not aware of an ongoing investigation against him.

“We call on Turkish authorities to ensure that Rohat Aktaş and others trapped in Cizre are given necessary medical treatment and safe passage out of the city,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova. “Turkey must allow journalists to report freely on clashes in southeast Turkey and to make every effort to ensure their safety.”

Cizre has been under a government-imposed curfew for nearly two months. Both Aktaş and Tekin had been reporting from the city since before the curfew. Turkish pro-government media claim that the people trapped in the city are terrorists and that separatists have prevented ambulances from helping the injured. Pro-opposition and pro-Kurdish media have reported that government forces are shooting indiscriminately at civilians and denying medical treatment to the injured.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, urged Turkey on Monday to “respect the fundamental rights of civilians in its security operations” and to investigate claims that civilians have been shot in Cizre, Reuters reported. A Turkish official denied civilians were being targeted and told the news agency it would investigate the claims.

In Tekin’s case, the journalist told CPJ he was injured while accompanying a group of civilians and officials, including a parliamentary deputy and Cizre’s deputy mayor, who were trying to collect the dead and wounded in the city’s Cudi neighborhood. Tekin told CPJ the group was fired on as it left the neighborhood. Tekin kept filming even after he was hit and bleeding, and his uploaded video gathered traction on social media in the following days. “People were carrying the dead and the wounded and I was recording them,” Tekin told CPJ. “They were walking with white flags, then the shooting began. People started to fall to the ground.”

Tekin was first taken to Cizre State Hospital, then transferred to Mardin State Hospital for treatment. He told CPJ that on the way to both hospitals officers assaulted and insulted him, including hitting him on the injured leg. Tekin filed complaints about the alleged treatment after the shooting and against his shooters, he told CPJ. He said he has not heard from police since filing the complaints.