An Istanbul court ordered the formal arrest of Turkish journalist Merdan Yanardağ pending an investigation into charges of “making propaganda” for a terrorist organization on June 27, 2023. (Screenshot: YouTube/TELE 1)

Turkish journalist Merdan Yanardağ arrested over political commentary

Istanbul, June 28, 2023—Turkish authorities should release journalist Merdan Yanardağ and stop hindering free speech and commentary in the country, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On Monday, June 26, police detained Yanardağ, chief editor for the critical online outlet and TV broadcaster TELE1, at the Istanbul studios of his outlet, after he criticized authorities over the prison conditions of Abdullah Öcalan, the convicted leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which Turkey considers as a terrorist organization.

On Tuesday, an Istanbul court ordered his formal arrest pending an investigation into charges of “making propaganda” for a terrorist organization.

“Turkish authorities must release Merdan Yanardağ, who is being held simply for his political commentary,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Yanardağ’s arrest is a challenge to all Turkish journalists and commentators and can only be seen as a means of intimidating them from discussing sensitive issues. Authorities must work to improve the country’s freedom of speech rather than continue to hinder it.”

During a June 20 broadcast, Yanardağ spoke about Öcalan, calling him “the longest serving political prisoner,” and arguing that he should have been released by that date. On June 26, the journalist said his words were taken out of context, and he was not praising Öcalan or any terrorist organization.

CPJ’s email to the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office did not immediately receive any reply.

Turkish authorities have repeatedly arrested journalists across the country for their alleged ties to purported terrorist groups. In April, authorities detained dozens of journalists allegedly tied to the PKK. At the time of CPJ’s latest prison census, on December 1, 2022, at least 40 journalists were held in Turkish prisons.