A man is detained during Labor Day protests in Istanbul, Turkey, on May 1, 2023. Istanbul police attacked and briefly detained at least two journalists as they covered Labor Day marches and protests. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)

More journalists detained, allegedly beaten in custody ahead of Turkish elections

Istanbul, May 2, 2023—Turkish authorities should immediately release Sedat Yılmaz, Dicle Müftüoğlu, and all other detained journalists and ensure the country’s security forces are not physically violent toward members of the press, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Tuesday.

On Saturday, April 29, police detained Yılmaz, an editor for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, and Müftüoğlu, co-chair of the local media advocacy group Dicle Fırat Journalists Association, in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır in connection with an investigation by prosecutors in Ankara, the capital, according to multiple news reports.

Ankara prosecutors alleged that Yılmaz and Müftüoğlu have ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group and political party that Turkey classifies as a terrorist group.

Separately, on April 29, police detained six female journalists in Istanbul’s Kadıköy neighborhood for publicly reading a statement protesting the arrests and prosecution of journalists in Ankara and Diyarbakır, according to reports and tweets by advocacy organizations.

On May 1, Istanbul police attacked and briefly detained at least two journalists as they covered Labor Day marches and protests, according to news reports.

Turkish authorities have arrested and charged several members of the Kurdish media over recent months with similar allegations of PKK connections, ahead of the country’s May 14 presidential election.

“The detainment of journalists Sedat Yılmaz and Dicle Müftüoğlu, on top of the arrests in Diyarbakır and the allegations of violence toward these journalists and others who showed solidarity with them in Istanbul, are signs of distress from a government that’s worried about the upcoming elections,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “The authorities must immediately release the journalists in custody and seriously investigate claims of police brutality.”

After the detainment in Diyarbakır, police drove Yılmaz and Müftüoğlu to Ankara. While they were being transported, the journalists alleged that their hands were tied behind their backs for 15 hours, they were deprived of food for 24 hours, insulted by the police officers, and Yılmaz was kicked in the head by one of the officers, resulting in hearing loss, according to multiple news reports. The pair are still detained, and Yılmaz’s lawyer has filed a criminal complaint concerning his client’s injuries and treatment.

The six female journalists were released on April 29 without charge, and later filed legal complaints against the police. They are: 

  1. Eylem Nazlıer, a reporter for the leftist daily Evrensel. She reported that police officers slapped her face multiple times and punched her head once as her hands were cuffed behind her back. 
  2. Pınar Gayıp, a reporter for the leftist Etkin News Agency (ETHA)
  3. Serpil Ünal, a reporter for the leftist news website Mücadele Birliği 
  4. Esra Soybir, a reporter for the leftist news website Direnişteyiz
  5. Yadigar Aygün, a reporter for the leftist news website Gazete Karınca  
  6. Zeynep Kuray, a freelance reporter who covers social events and protests

Gayıp and the other journalists also reported wounds to their wrists from the plastic cuffs that were tightened too tightly, according to those reports. The journalists were taken to a hospital for medical treatment before the police station, as is legally required.

On April 25, authorities in Diyarbakır detained at least nine journalists and a media lawyer for alleged ties to PKK. As of April 29, five have been released

  • Media lawyer Resul Temur
  • Osman Akın, news editor for the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Yeni Yaşam
  • Kadir Bayram, a camera operator for PIYA production company
  • Salih Keleş and Mehmet Yalçın, two journalists whose outlets CPJ could not immediately confirm. 

CPJ’s emails to the chief prosecutors’ offices of Ankara and Istanbul didn’t receive a reply.