Fırat Can Arslan
Fırat Can Arslan, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, has been detained in Turkey since July 25, 2023, after tweeting about the reassignments of a judge and prosecutor who are married to each other and are involved in an ongoing mass trial of journalists in Diyarbakır. Four other journalists were also detained for retweeting Arslan's post, but were later released. (Mezopotamya News Agency)

Turkish authorities detain 5 journalists over tweet, 1 remains in custody

Istanbul, July 26, 2023—Turkish authorities should immediately release reporter Fırat Can Arslan and stop treating journalists like criminals, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, July 25, Turkish police detained Arslan, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, at his house in the capital city of Ankara, in relation to an investigation by the chief prosecutor’s office in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır over allegations that the journalist was “making targets of those who were tasked to combat terrorism,” according to multiple news reports. A court ordered him to be imprisoned pending investigation.

The investigation concerns a tweet Arslan posted on July 18 about the reassignments of a judge and prosecutor who are married to each other and are involved in an ongoing mass trial of journalists in Diyarbakır, according to those sources.

Turkish police also detained four other journalists in different cities for retweeting Arslan’s post: Mezopotamya reporter Delal Akyüz in the western city of Izmir, independent news website T24 editor Sibel Yükler in Ankara, independent news website Bianet editor Evrim Kepenek in Istanbul, and freelance journalist Evrim Deniz in Diyarbakır.

All but Kepenek were released on Tuesday after questioning and remain under judicial control with a foreign travel ban, according to news reports. Kepenek spent one night in jail before being released with the same restrictions on Wednesday, Bianet reported.

“Turkish authorities should immediately and unconditionally release reporter Fırat Can Arslan, who is being detained for reporting on publicly available information and did nothing to ‘make targets’ of anyone,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Authorities should cease detaining journalists or raiding their houses as if they are criminals. Posting news on the internet or retweeting it cannot be a crime. All actions taken against journalists in retaliation for their engagement with Arslan’s reporting must be reversed at once.”

During the first hearing of the trial of 17 Kurdish journalists in Diyarbakır earlier in July, it was revealed that the prosecutor who penned the indictment and one of the three judges hearing the trial were married. Arslan tweeted about the couple being transferred to another city from Diyarbakır after it was publicly announced by Turkey’s Board of Judges and Prosecutors, the regulatory body that oversees the appointment, promotion, and dismissal of judges and public prosecutors.  

Kepenek was detained at her house in Istanbul in plastic handcuffs, and was later handcuffed as she was brought to the courthouse. Police also raided the houses of Akyüz and Yükler, reports said. Deniz told the Media and Legal Studies Association, a local free expression and press freedom advocacy group, that the Diyarbakır police could not raid her house because they did not know her address.

CPJ emailed the Diyarbakır chief prosecutor’s office but did not receive a response.

The Kurdish journalists on trial in Diyarbakır are facing charges of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); if convicted, they face up to 15 years in prison. 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.