İsmail Çoban, a former responsible news editor for the shuttered Kurdish-language Turkish daily Azadiya Welat, has been detained since April 2018. Çoban was sentenced to seven years and six months in prison on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization in January 2020. Two years were added to his sentence for allegedly obtaining contraband, such as a pro-Kurdish newspaper, in prison, his lawyer, Resul Tamur, told CPJ in late 2022.
On April 21, 2018, police detained Çoban in the southeastern province of Mersin, according to court documents provided by Tamur. A court on May 3, 2018, ordered Çoban to be held on accusations of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization."
In the indictment reviewed by CPJ, Çoban was accused of being a member of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), with the testimony of three witnesses cited as evidence. The journalist denied the accusation and said authorities forced the witnesses to testify against him.
As responsible news editor, Çoban can be held accountable for all of Azadiya Welat’s content during his time in the role. In Turkey, all news outlets are required to have a responsible news editor, but the position is often temporary for pro-opposition news outlets, due to the heavy load of legal cases filed against them.
Çoban was previously convicted in a separate case of "making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization."
According to the indictment and verdict in that case, Çoban was accused of supporting the PKK and its leader Abdullah Öcalan through Azadiya Welat. The prosecution cited as evidence reports of clashes between the PKK and Turkey’s armed forces that referred to PKK members as "guerrillas" and those PKK members killed in action as "martyrs," which the prosecution argued showed support for the militia. The prosecutor also cited as evidence articles that referred to the PKK as the "fundamental defender of Kurdistan" and Öcalan as "the leader of the Kurdish people."
A court on April 4, 2017, sentenced Çoban to one year, six months, and three days in prison, as well as a fine of 42,000 Turkish lira (US$7,855), Tamur said. Under Turkish law, each 20 lira of an unpaid fine adds one day to a defendant’s prison sentence. Tamur said that Çoban had not paid the fine, which added an additional 2,100 days, or more than five years, to his prison sentence.
Tamur told CPJ that in December 2016, the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the sentence for the propaganda charge, which they appealed again. Coban would have been free on appeal if it were not for the case in which he is accused of being a member of a terrorist organization, his lawyer told CPJ in September 2019.
Tamur told CPJ in November 2020 that, due to a change to the law in 2019, they were allowed to appeal the conviction on the propaganda charge again, as well as the unpaid fines that were turned into days in prison.
On January 15, 2020, the Mersin 7th Court of Serious Crimes sentenced Çoban to seven years and six months on charges of membership in a terrorist organization. The journalist pleaded not guilty. Tamur, who does not represent Çoban in this case, told CPJ in November 2020 that the verdict was being appealed.
Tamur told CPJ in November 2023 that Çoban is in good health and is not mistreated.
CPJ’s email to the Turkish Ministry of Justice
on November 1, 2023,
did not receive any reply.