A man talks to a camera in front of a bookcase.
Turkish journalist Sezgin Kartal informs his followers that an Istanbul court acquitted him on a charge of being a member of a terrorist organization on June 25, 2024. (Screenshot: Pir News Agency/PİRHA/YouTube)

CPJ welcomes acquittal of Turkish journalist Sezgin Kartal

Istanbul, June 25, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed an Istanbul court’s Tuesday acquittal of journalist Sezgin Kartal on the charge of being a member of a terrorist organization.

“We are pleased with the acquittal of journalist Sezgin Kartal, but let us not forget that the case against him was built on next to no evidence and should not have existed in the first place, let alone cost the journalist five months of his life in jail,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Authorities should not appeal the acquittal and ensure that members of the media are not prosecuted or so easily imprisoned without concrete evidence of wrongdoing.”

Authorities arrested Kartal in January 2023, and raided his home on the basis of his alleged resemblance to a man in a 2014 photograph of members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey recognizes as a terrorist organization. He spent more than five months behind bars before being released pending trial.

Kartal is a freelance journalist who covers Alevi issues, human rights, corruption, and labor issues and hosts a news show for the independent outlet Özgün TV.

CPJ attended Tuesday’s trial at the 22nd Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes. Kartal, who wasn’t present, was represented by his lawyers, who emphasized the lack of evidence against their client in closing arguments.

The indictment said the journalist met with alleged terrorists in Syria on September 24, 2014, pointing to a three-hour window in Kartal’s phone records, during which his cellphone did not receive any signal from Turkish towers, according to CPJ’s review of the document.

Kartal’s lawyer, Oya Meriç Eyüpoğlu, said the journalist was in the Suruç district in Şanlıurfa Province at Turkey’s southeastern border with Syria on that date, covering the ongoing refugee crisis. However, Eyüpoğlu said there is no evidence or chance that Kartal could have illegally crossed to Syria, had his photograph taken with a group of armed men, and returned to Turkey within three hours without being noticed by Turkish border guards.

Eyüpoğlu cited a forensic report that determined the photograph was taken during the daytime at 1:13 p.m., while the three-hour window that Kartal’s phone was off was from 8-11 p.m. that night.

Berfin Karaşah, Kartal’s other lawyer, argued that even if her client was the man in the picture, that would provide grounds for charges regarding illegal arms and violating border security, not terrorist organization membership.

CPJ emailed the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.