Ömer Çelik, a freelance journalist, was among 15 Kurdish journalists and a media worker who were taken into police custody in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakır in June 2022 and were jailed without charge pending trial.
Çelik, a former editor for the shuttered pro-Kurdish outlets Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and Dihaber, and the still-active Mezopotamya News Agency, was working as a freelance journalist in Diyarbakır and producing a political debate show for the local PEL Production Company at the time of his arrest. In December 2016, Çelik was arrested in relation to coverage of the president’s son-in-law’s leaked emails; he was released in October 2017 and received a 20-month suspended prison sentence in late 2021. PEL produces Kurdish-focused journalistic content including documentaries and shows on news, culture, arts, and political debates, and sells the content to European-based, pro-Kurdish broadcasters, his lawyer, Resul Tamur, told CPJ.
Diyarbakır police raided several locations in the city, including journalists’ houses and newsrooms, in the early hours of June 8, 2022, and took into custody 20 journalists and media workers, along with a citizen who was once interviewed by one of the journalists. On June 15, 15 of those journalists and one media worker were jailed by a court pending trial, including Altan.
Tamur, who represents the 15 journalists and the media worker, told independent news website Bianet that the journalists will not learn about the accusations against them until they are charged due to a court order of secrecy, but said they were all questioned about their journalistic activities.
Tamur told Bianet that his clients were questioned about the angle they took on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group and political party that Turkey classifies as a terrorist group, and whether the content the journalists created for broadcast by European outlets was considered pro-PKK. Most of the journalists either work for pro-Kurdish media outlets or independent production companies that provide content for other outlets, according to news reports and CPJ’s interviews with local journalists.
In a letter published by the leftist daily Evrensel on August 18, Çelik said he and the other journalists were questioned by the authorities about their work.
Tamur told CPJ in an in-person interview in early November that his clients were being held at Diyarbakır Prison and remained under arrest but had not been indicted. He added that while the defense had not been informed of the details of the case, the authorities were focusing on content produced by the local ARİ, PEL, and PIA production companies. That content is broadcast by European-based, pro-Kurdish broadcasters Sterk TV and Medya TV. Tamur said his clients are not employees of these broadcasters, which buy the content from a distributor that works with ARİ, PEL, and PIA. The content was also made available on YouTube after their broadcasts, the lawyer added.
Tamur told CPJ that Çelik suffers from epilepsy.
In prison, the journalists were not allowed to receive critical newspapers such as Yeni Yaşam, BirGün, and Evrensel, and only had access to radio with a limited number of stations. The journalists were in good health and were allowed lawyer and family visits, but had complained about a lack of access to socialization and sports activities, according to reports.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Ministry of Justice in October 2022 for comment but did not receive any reply.