Turkish journalist arrested for posts on social media

Istanbul, February 8, 2016–Turkish authorities should immediately release Hayri Tunç, a reporter for the independent news website Jiyan, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Police detained Tunç in Istanbul on February 2, and an Istanbul criminal court arraigned him the next day on charges of spreading propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK) in posts he made to social media websites linking to his articles, according to his arrest order, which CPJ has reviewed. The Turkish government has classed the PKK and the KCK as terrorist organizations. Tunç is currently at Istanbul’s Silivri Prison awaiting trial, his lawyer told CPJ.

“We call on Turkish authorities to release Hayri Tunç without delay and to stop harassing and arresting Kurdish journalists,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Posting links to news articles on social media sites and expressing personal opinions on Twitter are not criminal activities.”

According to Tunç’s testimony before the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office, which CPJ has reviewed, interrogators asked the journalist about his recent Facebook and Twitter posts, including links to articles from Jiyan, and to videos he recorded apparently showing police forcibly dispersing protests against the government’s policies with regard to Turkey’s ethnic-Kurdish minority. According to the testimony, prosecutors also asked him about personal photographs and remarks he had published to his social media accounts.

Tunç denied the accusations of spreading propaganda, and said his postings were journalistic in nature, according to his testimony. Tunç’s lawyer, Ahmet Baran Çelik, told CPJ that his client was also detained two months ago on accusations of spreading propaganda in relation to other social media posts, but that he had been released on condition he check in regularly with police.

In a separate case, Turkish authorities on February 2 arrested journalist Nuri Akman, Van Province bureau chief for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), in Turkey’s eastern Malatya Province, on the suspicion he was a member of a terrorist organization, according to press reports. CPJ is currently investigating the circumstances behind Akman’s arrest to determine whether it was related to his journalistic work.

Turkey has recently renewed its practice of imprisoning critical journalists in retaliation for their work–a policy that gained the country the dubious honor of being the world’s leading jailer of the press in 2012 and 2013. Turkish authorities arrested at least five Kurdish journalists in December 2015 and January 2016 alone, CPJ research shows.