Istanbul, October 5, 2023—The Committee to Protect Journalists urged Turkish authorities on Thursday to immediately release journalists Dicle Müftüoğlu and Sedat Yılmaz, who have been held in pretrial detention for more than five months, and to stop using terrorism legislation to criminalize journalists.
Müftüoğlu and Yılmaz, both editors at the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency, were charged with membership and leadership of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group and political party that Turkey classifies as a terrorist group, according to the indictments, which were reviewed by CPJ. The journalists face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty under Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws.
The 40-plus-page indictments, which the chief public prosecutor’s office in Turkey’s capital, Ankara, presented to the court on September 6, mainly focused on the structure of the PKK. The indictments did not mention the journalists until the final pages and three of the four state witnesses cited were anonymous. The journalists’ travels, financial transactions, and logs of phone calls with other journalists, politicians and human rights activists were also cited as evidence.
“Turkish journalists Dicle Müftüoğlu and Sedat Yılmaz have been held behind bars since April, waiting for the state prosecutor to prepare these indictments, which rely heavily on secret witnesses and present everyday journalistic activities as criminal behavior,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Authorities must immediately release both editors and stop using terrorism charges to jail journalists for months on end in retaliation for their reporting.”
Müftüoğlu, who is also co-chair of the local media advocacy group Dicle Fırat Journalists Association, and Yılmaz were arrested on April 29 in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. The journalists, who were being held in Ankara, will be tried separately in Diyarbakır on dates that were yet to be determined, their lawyer Resul Temur told CPJ. Temur said that the evidence against the journalists was “not solid” and included “unfounded claims” that their media outlets were “terrorism tools.”
In April, 17 Kurdish journalists and a media worker were charged with membership of the PKK. At a hearing in July, the 15 defendants who had been held under pretrial arrest for 13 months were released on bail, pending trial.
Turkey was the world’s fourth-worst jailer of journalists, with 40 behind bars at the time of CPJ’s latest annual worldwide census of imprisoned journalists on December 1, 2022.
CPJ’s emails to the Ankara chief public prosecutor’s office requesting comment did not receive any reply.