İsmail Çoban

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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. 

On April 21, 2018, police detained Çoban in the southeastern province of Mersin, according to court documents provided by his lawyer, Resul Tamur. A court on May 3, 2018, ordered Çoban to be held on accusations of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization," according to news reports.

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 that authorities forced the witnesses to testify against him, according to the indictment.

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 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 an email 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, according to news reports. The journalist pleaded not guilty, the reports said. Tamur, who does not represent Çoban in this case, told CPJ in a November 2020 email that this verdict was being appealed

Tamur said in late 2019 the journalist’s health was satisfactory and he was allowed visits from his family and lawyer. The journalist said that he has trouble accessing newspapers including Evrensel and the pro-Kurdish Yeni Yaşam.

Tamur said in his November 2020 email that he did not visit the journalist in prison that year, and could not offer updates on his health. CPJ called and texted Tamur for comment in 2021, but did not receive any replies. 

CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2021 for comment, but did not receive any reply.