Mehmet Güleş, a former reporter for the now shuttered pro-Kurdish news agencies DİHA and Dihaber, is serving over nine years in prison. In 2019, the journalist reported health problems related to a hunger strike, but he refused hospital treatment because he would have to wear handcuffs.
Police in Turkey’s eastern Elazığ province detained Güleş on December 6, 2016, the daily newspapers Evrensel and Dihaber reported. Güleş was detained while he was following a police operation of house raids that ended with the arrests of at least six others on suspicion of "being member of a [terrorist] organization," according to these press reports. Police asked Güleş for identification while he was reporting on the process, then told him that he was wanted to testify in another investigation and detained him too.
Dihaber reported the next day that a court in Elazığ ordered Güleş jailed pending trial on the charge of "being member of a [terrorist] organization." The charge was based in part on his phone conversations with sources and his reports for the pro-Kurdish DİHA news agency, which the government had closed by emergency decree in October 2016. Güleş’ reporting in real time from street battles between ethnic-Kurdish youth and Turkish security forces in Silopi was also cited as evidence against him. The Elazığ court found that Güleş praised the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) and criticized security forces in his reports, according to Dihaber. Güleş was sent to Elazığ Prison pending trial, his employer reported.
On May 3, 2017, a court in the eastern Turkish city of Elazığ sentenced Güleş to nine years, four months, and 15 days in prison on charges of “being a member of a [terrorist] organization” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” his employer reported. Dihaber reported that the journalist would appeal the verdict and that Güleş denied the charges. His lawyers argued that police illegally tapped his phone, and that the conversations used as evidence against him were with journalistic sources, Dihaber reported.
Dihaber was shuttered by a government decree on August 20, 2017.
In a July 17, 2018, interview in Evrensel that Güleş gave through his lawyers while in prison, the journalist said that prison administrators sometimes arbitrarily delayed access to writing materials and books in Kurdish.
Resul Tamur, a lawyer representing Güleş, told CPJ in September 2019 that the Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the journalist’s conviction and approved his nine year, four month, 15 day sentence. Tamur did not specify the date of the hearing.
In late 2020, Tamur told CPJ in an email that the Constitutional Court had yet to hear their appeal on the basis of unlawful arrest in the membership trial, which was lodged in November 2018. He also said the Supreme Court of Appeals had yet to hear their appeal for the propaganda trial.
Güleş is imprisoned due to his finalized membership verdict, according to Tamur. He is in Elazığ High Security Prison, Tamur said.
Tamur told CPJ in late 2019 that Güleş did not have access to the pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam in prison. Yeni Yaşam reported on September 29, 2019, that prisoners were not receiving it, nor the leftist Evrensel.
In late 2019, Tamur said Güleş had health problems related to a hunger strike he joined to protest a ban that prevented the jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan from seeing his lawyers. Güleş’ pulse and blood pressure levels were low, but he refused treatment in a hospital because he would be handcuffed during the transfer and treatment. The prison infirmary is not equipped to treat Güleş’ health issues, Tamur said.
Tamur told CPJ in October 2020 that Güleş had ended his hunger strike, but that he had some health problems that were not fully diagnosed because the journalist refused to go to a hospital because he would be handcuffed during the transfer and treatment.
Tamur said the journalist is allowed visits from family and his lawyer in prison, but his access to newspapers and books are limited, with certain critical newspapers still not permitted.
CPJ emailed a request for comment on Güleş’ case to the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2020, but did not receive a reply.