Şehriban Abi was one of four Kurdish reporters arrested on the same day in October 2020 in the eastern city of Van and questioned in relation to reporting on the military’s alleged abuse of two civilians from that city, one of whom later died. The four journalists are in pretrial detention in Van province.
Police raided the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency’s Van office and the four journalists’ homes in the city on October 6, 2020, and took them into custody, according to Mezopotamya and the independent news website Bianet. The reports did not state whether Abi, a reporter for pro-Kurdish Jin News Agency (JİNHA)–which is staffed entirely by women–was taken into custody at the agency’s office or at her home. Along with Abi, the three other detained reporters were Mezopotamya’s Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, and freelancer Nazan Sala, according to those reports. The reports said that the police took the journalists’ cameras and technical equipment, but did not specify what equipment or where it was seized from.
Mezopotamya reported October 6, 2020, that the journalists were taken into custody in connection with a September 13 Mezopotamya article–with a byline by Uğur–that first reported allegations that Turkish military personnel detained and tortured two civilians from Van, and then threw them out of a helicopter; one of the civilians later died. Mezopotamya published several follow-up articles on the incident, according to a CPJ review of the website. A lawyer who met with Uğur in detention told Mezopotamya October 7 that Uğur said the four reporters were being detained for uncovering what happened to the two men, and for writing about the Turkish armed forces’ treatment of the Kurdish population in the region.
The reports did not provide any details about Abi’s involvement in Mezopotamya’s reporting on the alleged abuses by the Turkish military. CPJ was unable to determine Abi’s involvement, if any, in the writing or reporting of these articles.
The Van governor’s office issued a statement on September 21, 2020, claiming that the two civilians were suspected of aiding and abetting the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), that they were apprehended by security forces within procedure, and that they were injured while resisting arrest.
Fehim Çetiner and Şükran Erdem, a newspaper distributor and former distributor—respectively—for the pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam, were detained on October 6, 2020, as part of the same investigation, according to Mezopotamya. The two distributors and four journalists were kept in custody for four days, during which time they were questioned about their work, according to the same report.
On October 9, 2020, a Van court ordered the four journalists to be held pending trial on charges of “being members of a [terrorist] organization,” Bianet and Mezopotamya reported. The court based the charge on the allegation of “making news of social incidents against the state,” the reports said.
The Van court released Çetiner and Erdem on bail and banned them from international travel, according to the same reports.
The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), a legal nongovernmental organization that represents Uğur, Abi, and Sala, told CPJ in an email in late October that: “During their police interrogation, prosecutorial questioning and arraignment they were asked questions about the news report on the tortured villagers, other news reports and why they work at the institution they work. The legal documents for their detention also assert they are not journalists, because they don’t have officially issued press cards.”
The indictment in the case had not been written as of November 2020, and no trial date had been set, according to MLSA.
MLSA told CPJ in an email on November 20, 2020, that it applied to Turkey’s Constitutional Court on behalf of Uğur, Abi, and Sala. “The application asserts that the now 42-day long detention of the journalists–who are accused of membership in a terrorist organization, although there is not yet an indictment in the case–is a violation of Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution and Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), the right to liberty and security of person. Although these articles demand the existence of ‘strong doubt’ for detention of person, the three journalists have been accused on the bases of the books they owned, their journalism notepads and where they work,” the email said.
MLSA reported October 26, 2020, that its representatives visited the journalists in Van Prison. MLSA reported that Abi and Sala—the other female journalist—said they were kept in unhealthy conditions during the period they were quarantined due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions, and were not given towels, slippers, or clothing.
CPJ emailed the Turkish Justice Ministry in late October for comment on the case but did not receive a reply.