Turkish authorities recently arrested journalist Sezgin Kartal for alleged membership in a banned Kurdish group. (Screenshot: YouTube/Özgün TV)

Turkish journalist Sezgin Kartal arrested for alleged PKK membership

Istanbul, January 18, 2023 – Turkish authorities should immediately release journalist Sezgin Kartal and stop filing terrorism charges against members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On January 10, police raided Kartal’s Istanbul home and took him into custody; on January 13, a local court ordered him to be held in pretrial detention on the suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization, according to news reports.

Kartal covers human rights, corruption, and labor issues for the leftist news website Karşı Mahalle and hosts a news show for independent outlet Özgün TV, those reports said. In court documents reviewed by CPJ, authorities said the basis for his arrest was Kartal’s resemblance to a man in a 2014 photograph of members of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK.

Kartal pleaded not guilty and denied that he was the man in the photograph, the documents said.

“It is simply unacceptable that Turkish authorities arrested journalist Sezgin Kartal for what amounts to his resemblance to a man in a 19-year-old photograph,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should release Kartal immediately and cease filing spurious terrorism charges against members of the press.”

Ülkü Şahin, a member of Kartal’s legal team, told CPJ via email that police and prosecutors asked Kartal about the types of stories he wrote as a journalist.

Erselen Aktan, another of Kartal’s lawyers, told CPJ via phone that he believed Kartal would not have been arrested on such flimsy charges if he was not a member of the press. Aktan told CPJ that the investigation into Kartal was opened in 2020, but he was only arrested after he became more active promoting his work on social media.

CPJ emailed the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.

[Editors’ Note: The year of the photograph in the third paragraph was corrected.]