Turkish documentary filmmakers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu (left) and Çayan Demirel take a selfie at a courthouse in Batman in February 2019. CPJ called on authorities to stop fighting the filmmakers' appeals after their sentences were upheld on April 26, 2024. (Screenshot: Surela Film Yapım/YouTube)

Appeals court upholds 25-month sentences for 2 Turkish documentary filmmakers

Istanbul, May 3, 2024—Turkish authorities should stop fighting the appeals of documentary filmmakers Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel and allow all journalists to work freely without fear of retaliation, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.

On April 26 in the southeastern city of Batman, an appeals court upheld a 25-month sentence for Mavioğlu and Demirel for “making propaganda” for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with their 2015 documentary “Bakur (North).” The film is about the lives of the militia in camps of the PKK, which has been fighting the Turkish forces since the 1980s and has been recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union, and the United States.

The filmmakers’ case is currently waiting for review by the Supreme Court of Appeals; the trial date has yet to be set.

Erkan Şenses, Mavioğlu’s lawyer, told CPJ that the journalists may be imprisoned for approximately 18.5 months if they lose the next appeal; at least the first six and a half months of which would be in a closed prison with the possibility of being transferred to an open prison with lower security, which could include temporary leave under certain conditions.

“The terrorism charges levied against Turkish documentarians Ertuğrul Mavioğlu and Çayan Demirel are an attempt to silence the voices that offer a nongovernmental view on the Kurdish people and their history,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Turkish authorities should not contest their upcoming appeal as their acquittals would help create an atmosphere in Turkey in which the media can operate without oppression and fear of retaliation.”

The pair were originally found guilty of the charge in 2019 and sentenced to 4.5 years in prison. The filmmakers remained free pending appeal. In 2022, a local appeals court ordered a retrial.

The court found the defendants guilty once more in December 2023, and reduced the sentences to 25 months for each, according to court documents inspected by CPJ.

Demirel is considered “99% permanently disabled,” according to an official medical report, after his heart stopped for 15 minutes on March 18, 2015, one day after the completion of the documentary Bakur. Demirel’s ability to see, speak, and move has deteriorated, and he has been unable to care for himself.

CPJ emailed the chief prosecutor’s office in Batman for comment but did not receive a reply.