Nedim Türfent, a Turkish reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency (DİHA), has been detained since 2016. The journalist was sentenced to over eight years in prison, despite several prosecution witnesses recanting their testimonies in court and saying that police forced them to testify against Türfent.
Police detained Türfent in the eastern province of Van on May 12, 2016, CPJ reported at the time. The Yüksekova Court of Penal Peace in Hakkari province ordered him jailed pending trial in Hakkari prison the following day, according to the leftist daily newspaper Evrensel.
According to court documents CPJ reviewed, prosecutors asked the journalist about a DİHA story on Kurdish Civil Protection Units (YPS), which the Turkish government classes as a terrorist organization, and news he shared on his Twitter account.
The prosecution cited witness testimony, including from someone it said was a captured YPS member, accusing Türfent of being a member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK/KCK) and the offshoot group, the YPS, which propagandizes for the banned groups by interviewing their members and taking photographs and videos of them.
According to the court documents, Türfent responded that he was not the one who took the pictures or videos used for the story in question, and that he had not written it. He denied being a member of the PKK/KCK, and noted that it was his job to interview people, including members of illegal organizations. "Interviewing organization members does not make one an organization member," he said, according to the court record.
The prosecution also cited witness accounts that Türfent photographed trenches and blockades Kurdish rebels prepared in the eastern Turkish town of Yüksekova. In response, the journalist said he documented the events because they had news value, and that all the witnesses’ claims against him were unsupported by evidence.
The court ruled that the witness testimonies were enough to create a "reasonable suspicion" that Türfent was a "member of a [terrorist] organization," and ordered him jailed pending trial.
DİHA reported in May 2016 that Türfent received threats from police officers prior to his arrest. He told his employer that people who claimed to be police officers threatened him at his home, and that police officers told relatives, "Nedim should be careful."
According to court documents CPJ reviewed, Türfent told the court that he was "subjected to inhumane treatment and torture" while being detained.
All of the 13 initial witnesses that prosecutors called to testify that Türfent was a member of a terrorist organization later recanted their written testimony, saying police extracted it under threat or torture, Evrensel reported after the hearing on June 14, 2017. The witnesses told the court said they did not know who Türfent was when they signed their testimonies, and some said that police put guns to their heads to make them sign. One said that police pulled out two of his teeth and threatened to take out more if he tried to recant later, according to news reports. "I signed the testimony while my head was being banged on the desk. I did not know what was written on it," one witness told the court. "I was detained for five days and subjected to torture," another said. "They made me sign the testimony by saying they would shoot me in the head," said another, according to press reports.
At a hearing in August 2017, another witness who is a minor identified in press reports only by his initials D.B., told the court that authorities pressured him to testify against Türfent and that the testimony had not been taken in the presence of a lawyer, the press freedom group P24 reported. D.B. recanted his testimony and told the court that he did not know the defendant.
Türfent attended the hearing via teleconference, but without audio because of technical problems. Authorities denied Türfent’s requests to attend his trial hearings in person, his lawyer, Harika Günay, told CPJ in September 2017.
A court in Hakkari on December 15, 2017, found Türfent guilty of "being a member of a [terrorist] organization," and sentenced him to eight years and nine months in prison, according to reports. The reports cited defense lawyer Harika Karataş as saying that 19 out of 20 prosecution witnesses recanted their testimony and said that they were subjected to police threats or torture. Still, the court accepted some of the witnesses’ original testimony as evidence, the reports said.
Türfent’s lawyers told CPJ in November 2018 that after a local appeals court rejected their appeal the case was sent to the Supreme Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court of Appeals upheld the verdict on October 9, 2019, according to news reports.
The journalist’s case was taken to the Constitutional Court of Turkey on July 17, 2018, and the European Court of Human Rights on February 4, 2019, Zelal Pelin Doğan, the journalist’s lawyer, told CPJ in September 2019. In 2021, Doğan told CPJ that neither court responded to those appeals, and that Türfent had not made any court appearances.
Türfent is detained in a maximum-security prison in Van. Doğan told CPJ that Türfent’s health is good and that his family and lawyers can visit him in prison.
Ersalan Aktan, another of Türfent’s lawyers, told CPJ in September 2021 that Türfent had been vaccinated against COVID-19 and did not complain about mistreatment while in detention. He added that the journalist had problems accessing printed material and letters amid the pandemic, but planned to publish a poetry book soon.
Both lawyers said Türfent will be eligible for parole in 2022.
CPJ met with the Constitutional Court of Turkey as part of an international press freedom mission in October 2021 and highlighted Türfent’s case to its directors and rapporteurs.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2021 for comment, but did not receive any reply.