Police officers are seen at the Palace of Justice in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 30, 2020. Authorities recently arrested journalist Erkan Akkuş. (Reuters/Murad Sezer)

Turkish journalist Erkan Akkuş arrested after 4 years in hiding

Istanbul, August 25, 2020 – Turkish authorities should release journalist Erkan Akkuş immediately and cease jailing members of the press for their work and political commentary, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On August 22, police in the western province of Kocaeli detained Akkuş, former news editor and anchor for the now-shuttered Bugün TV broadcaster, and transported him to Istanbul yesterday, where he was formally arrested and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization,” according to reports by CNN Turkey and local newspaper Hürriyet.

Akkuş had been in hiding since an arrest warrant was issued in 2016 over his alleged connection to the military coup attempt in July of that year, according to those reports, which said that the journalist denied the charges.

If convicted, he could face up to 10 years in jail, according to Turkish law.

“Turkey should drop the terrorism charges against journalist Erkan Akkuş and release him immediately,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, in New York. “Turkey must stop jailing members of the press, especially during a global pandemic, when even a short time in the county’s overcrowded prisons could seriously jeopardize the journalist’s health.”

During his questioning yesterday, police interrogated Akkuş about his social media posts, which authorities allege were supportive of Fethullah Gülen, the accused coup organizer, according to Hürriyet. Akkuş frequently posted political commentary on his Twitter account, where he has more than 80,000 followers, but has not tweeted since the 2016 coup attempt.

Akkuş denied being a member of the so-called FETÖ organization, a group affiliated with Gülen, which the Turkish government blames for the coup attempt, local reports said.  

CPJ emailed the Turkish Justice Ministry for comment, but did not receive any reply.