Istanbul, April 14, 2023 – Turkish authorities must immediately release all imprisoned members of the press and stop prosecuting journalists who cover Kurdish issues, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
On Wednesday, April 12, the 4th Court of Serious Crimes in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır charged 17 Kurdish journalists and a media worker with membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the government has designated as a terrorist organization, according to multiple news reports and the 728-page indictment, which CPJ reviewed. They face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.
The defendants are expected back in court on July 11, 2023, and have denied any ties to terrorism during their interrogations last year and their testimonies summarized in the indictment.
Fifteen of the defendants have been in pretrial arrest without charge since June 2022.
“Turkish authorities must immediately release the journalists and the media worker who have been behind bars since June 2022 and stop charging members of the press reporting on Turkey’s Kurdish issue under the country’s terrorism laws,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Turkey has long been one of the world leading jailers of journalists and this latest crackdown shows authorities’ fear of any semblance of independent reporting.”
Turkey was the world’s fourth-worst jailer of journalists, with 40 behind bars at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2022, prison census. Of those, more than half were Kurdish journalists.
According to the indictment, the journalists and media worker are employed by local ARİ, PEL, and PİYA production companies and produce Kurdish-focused shows on news, culture, arts, political debates, and documentaries.
The indictment alleges that the content produced was propaganda for the PKK and its imprisoned leader, Abdullah Öcalan. The content is broadcast by European-based, pro-Kurdish broadcasters Sterk TV and Medya TV.
The 14 journalists and media worker who have been charged and remain in detention are:
- Abdurrahman Öncü, a camera operator for PEL Production Company
- Aziz Oruç, an editor for pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency and freelance producer
- Elif Üngür, a broadcast reporter for PİYA Production Company
- İbrahim Koyuncu, a freelance camera operator and editor
- Lezgin Akdeniz, a camera operator for ARİ Production Company
- Mazlum Güler, a former camera operator for PİYA and former owner of ARİ
- Mehmet Şahin, a broadcast reporter and commentator for PEL
- Mehmet Ali Ertaş, a news editor for the Kurdish-language weekly Xwebün and a producer at PEL
- Neşe Toprak, a broadcast reporter for ARI
- Ömer Çelik, freelance producer
- Ramazan Geciken, camera operator for PİYA
- Serdar Altan, a broadcast reporter for PEL
- Suat Doğuhan, camera operator and owner of PİYA
- Zeynel Abidin Bulut, a broadcast reporter for PEL and an editor for Xwebün
- Remziye Temel, an accountant for ARİ
The following journalists were also indicted but remain free pending the trial:
- Esmer Tunç, camera operator for PEL
- Kadir Bayram, camera operator for PİYA
- Mehmet Yalçın, camera operator for ARİ
Safiye Alagaş, an editor for the pro-Kurdish news website JINNEWS, was arraigned with the other journalists in June 2022 and remains imprisoned, their lawyer, Resul Tamur, told CPJ via messaging app. She will be prosecuted separately alongside JINNEWS reporter Gülşen Koçuk on charges of terrorist organization membership and terrorism propaganda.
CPJ’s email to the Diyarbakır chief prosecutor’s office did not receive a response.