Istanbul, February 21, 2023 – Turkish authorities must stop charging members of the press with terrorism and release all jailed journalists, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.
On February 8, the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office indicted 10 Kurdish journalists, nine of whom have been under pretrial arrest since late October, on the charge of membership in a terrorist organization. The indictment was made available to the journalists’ lawyers and CPJ on Friday, February 17, after it was approved by the court.
“Turkish authorities’ recent indictment of 10 journalists on terrorism charges is the latest in a long string of prosecutions of members of the press in retaliation for their reporting,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “The authorities should drop the charges, release all journalists imprisoned for their work, and put an end to equating journalism with terrorism.”
Those indicted were: pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency editor Diren Yurtsever; Mezopotamya reporters Berivan Altan, Ceylan Şahinli, Deniz Nazlım, Emrullah Acar, Hakan Yalçın, Salman Güzelyüz, and Zemo Ağgöz Yiğitsoy, freelance journalist Öznur Değer; pro-Kurdish news website JİNNEWS reporter Ümmü Habibe Eren; and former Mezopotamya reporting intern Mehmet Günhan. They were charged with being members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to those reports and the indictment, which was reviewed by CPJ.
The prosecutors alleged that Mezopotamya and JİNNEWS are directly linked to the PKK, including having financial ties, and cited more than 100 news stories about the outlawed group as evidence. Other evidence used against the journalists included tapped phone calls, travel records, printed and digital material found at their homes and workplaces, social media posts, small financial transfers, and the testimony of a secret witness.
CPJ asked Resul Tamur, a lawyer for the journalists, if there was any basis for the allegations of financial ties to the PKK; he said the prosecution had “opinion-based” evidence that was “not solid.” The journalists have previously denied the charges, according to the indictment.
The defendants face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.
All the defendants except intern Günhan were ordered imprisoned by an Ankara court in late October. Ağgöz, the mother of a newborn baby, was put under house arrest; this was lifted in late December, but she was banned from foreign travel.
CPJ emailed the Ankara chief prosecutor’s office and the Justice Ministry for comment but received no immediate reply.