Kurdish journalist Dindar Karataş was detained in late November 2020 in the eastern city of Van, questioned in relation to his reporting, and imprisoned pending trial on suspicion of being a member of a terrorist organization, the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK).
Karataş started working as a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency’s office in Van in late 2019, according to his interrogation document, which CPJ reviewed. The journalist covers a range of sensitive topics such as allegations of torture by state officials, prisoners’ rights, and the Kurdish issue, according to legal documents CPJ reviewed.
Police officers in Van arrested Karataş at his home in the morning of November 24, 2020, and brought him to the local office of his employer, where they searched the premises and confiscated equipment, according to Mezopotamya and local independent news website Bianet. Police seized the journalist’s phone and memory card in his camera from his home, and seized his laptop, letters sent to Karataş, a computer, and three hard drives belonging to Mezopotamya from the office, according to those reports and another report by Bianet. Police then took Karataş to the northeastern city of Erzurum, 240 km (150 miles) from Van, according to Mezopotamya.
On November 26, 2020, the 1st Erzurum Court of Penal Peace sent Karataş to prison pending trial on suspicion of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization,” according to Mezopotamya and the court’s arrest order, which CPJ reviewed. The arrest order ruled that the journalist be imprisoned pending trial. According to Turkish trial procedure, his trial date will not be set, and the exact charge will not be determined, until an indictment is written and accepted by a court.
The Erzurum chief prosecutor’s office’s interrogation document, reviewed by CPJ, summarized the journalist’s questioning by prosecutors and paraphrased Karataş’ responses without including the questions asked. In his paraphrased answers, Karataş denied having ties to groups recognized as terrorist by the Turkish government as well as intending to write stories critical of the Turkish security forces. Karataş’ paraphrased answers indicate that he was questioned about his journalistic work, specifically about stories on allegations of torture of civilians by the Turkish Armed Forces, an alleged suicide in a prison, prison conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic, and public activities of the legal, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). İrfan Sarı, a lawyer for Karataş, told the prosecutors that his client wrote over a hundred stories on different subjects for Mezopotamya during the time he worked there, and choosing 10-15 stories and calling them terrorism propaganda is not sufficient for an accusation, according to the interrogation document.
On November 26, Karataş pleaded not guilty at the 1st Erzurum Court of Penal Peace, according to the court’s arrest order document. His lawyer, Sarı, asked for his client to be released before and during the trial, but the court decided there is “strong suspicion of a crime” and imprisoned the journalist, according to the same document.
Karataş is at Erzurum Prison, according to news reports. Journalist Sedat Yılmaz, who is a colleague of Karataş at Mezopotamya, told CPJ that Karataş has not been visited by a lawyer since he was sent to prison, but that his health was fine at the time of the arrest.
CPJ emailed the Erzurum prosecutor’s office for comment in November 2020, but did not receive any reply.