Adnan Bilen was one of four Kurdish reporters arrested on the same day in October 2020 in the eastern city of Van and questioned in relation to reporting on the military’s alleged abuse of two civilians from that city, one of whom later died. The four journalists are in pretrial detention in Van province.
Bilen, who covers a wide range of stories for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency’s office in Van, previously worked as a reporter for shuttered pro-Kurdish outlets such as the daily Özgür Gündem and the Dicle News Agency (DİHA), according to his file in the local press freedom group Press in Arrest’s database.
Police raided Mezopotamya’s Van office and the four journalists’ homes in the city on October 6, 2020, and took them into custody, according to Mezopotamya and the independent news website Bianet. The reports did not state whether Bilen was taken into custody at the agency’s office or at his home. Along with Bilen, the three other detained reporters were Mezopotamya’s Cemil Uğur, Şehriban Abi of the pro-Kurdish Jin News Agency, and freelancer Nazan Sala, according to those reports. The reports said that the police took the journalists’ cameras and technical equipment, but did not specify what equipment or where it was seized from.
Mezopotamya reported October 6, 2020, that the journalists were taken into custody in connection with a September 13 Mezopotamya article–with a byline by Uğur–that first reported allegations that Turkish military personnel detained and tortured two civilians from Van, and then threw them out of a helicopter; one of the civilians later died. Mezopotamya published several follow-up articles on the incident, according to a CPJ review of the website. A lawyer who met with Uğur in detention told Mezopotamya October 7 that Uğur said the four reporters were being detained for uncovering what happened to the two men, and for writing about the Turkish armed forces’ alleged mistreatment of the Kurdish population in the region.
CPJ was unable to determine Bilen’s involvement, if any, in the writing or reporting of these articles.
The Van governor’s office issued a statement on September 21, 2020, claiming that the two civilians were suspected of aiding and abetting the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), that they were apprehended by security forces within procedure, and that they were injured while resisting arrest.
Fehim Çetiner and Şükran Erdem, a newspaper distributor and former distributor—respectively—for the pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam, were detained on October 6, 2020, as part of the same investigation, according to Mezopotamya. The two distributors and four journalists were kept in custody for four days, during which time they were questioned about their work, according to the same report.
On October 9, 2020, a Van court ordered the four journalists to be held pending trial on charges of “being members of a [terrorist] organization,” Bianet and Mezopotamya reported. The court based the charge on the allegation of “making news of social incidents against the state,” the reports said.
The Van court released Çetiner and Erdem on bail and banned them from international travel, according to the same reports.
The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), a legal nongovernmental organization that represents Uğur, Abi, and Sala, told CPJ in an email in late October that: “During their police interrogation, prosecutorial questioning and arraignment they were asked questions about the news report on the tortured villagers, other news reports and why they work at the institution they work. The legal documents for their detention also assert they are not journalists, because they don’t have officially issued press cards.”
The indictment in the case had not been written as of November 2020, and no trial date had been set, according to MLSA and Bilen’s lawyer, Murat Timur.
MLSA told CPJ in an email on November 20, 2020, that it applied to Turkey’s Constitutional Court on behalf of Uğur, Abi, and Sala. “The application asserts that the now 42-day long detention of the journalists–who are accused of membership in a terrorist organization, although there is not yet an indictment in the case–is a violation of Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to liberty and security of person. Although these articles demand the existence of ‘strong doubt’ for detention of person, the three journalists have been accused on the bases of the books they owned, their journalism notepads and where they work,” the email said.
Timur told CPJ via messaging app in November 2020 that he and Bilen decided to apply to the Constitutional Court at a later stage, when the case dossier is more developed.
MLSA reported October 26, 2020, that its representatives visited the four journalists in Van Prison. Bilen said that he and Uğur were first put in the quarantine ward of the prison due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, but they were kept there even after their quarantine period had ended, which prevented them access to newspapers and TV, according to that report.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Justice Ministry in late October for comment on the case but did not receive a reply.