Seyithan Akyüz

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Seyithan Akyüz, a Kurdish journalist for the now shuttered Kurdish language daily Azadiya Welat, has been imprisoned in Turkey since 2009. His lawyer said he was due to be eligible for release by the end of 2019, but was sentenced to six years and three months in prison in December of that year. 

Akyüz was the Adana correspondent for Azadiya Welat (Homeland’s Freedom). According to a letter he sent to the independent news website Bianet in March 2016, in addition to his reporting job with Azadiya Welat, the journalist was helping with the newspaper’s distribution as well as the distribution of another pro-Kurdish daily, Özgür Gündem, in the region. Occasionally, the letter said, Akyüz reported for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, in Kurdish. All three media outlets were shut down on October 29, 2016, by an emergency decree that accused them of having ties to terrorist organizations and representing a threat to national security.

Akyüz was initially charged with aiding the banned Union of Communities in Kurdistan, or KCK, an umbrella group of pro-Kurdish organizations that includes the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK. Authorities cited as evidence his possession of banned newspapers and his presence at a May Day demonstration in İzmir. He was later convicted of membership in an armed terrorist organization, the PKK, and sentenced to 12 years in prison, Akyüz wrote in the letter to Bianet

Authorities publicly claim that the pro-Kurdish media are aligned with the PKK and the KCK. The government says the journalists produce propaganda in favor of the banned organizations.

A 2012 trial in Adana made national news when the judge refused to allow Akyüz and other defendants to offer statements in their native Kurdish. In his March 2016 letter to Bianet, the journalist said he was never allowed to testify in court. A June 2014 report by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also found that court officials withheld case documents from Akyüz’s lawyer for more than a year.

In September 2018, Akyüz’s lawyer Vedat Özkan told CPJ that the Constitutional Court rejected his appeal. 

The journalist is also serving a sentence for a separate conviction of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” (the PKK), Özkan told CPJ in November 2019. The lawyer said that in that case, a court sentenced the journalist to three years and one month in prison in either 2003 or 2004. He added that he did not have further documents or information on the case.

Özkan has told CPJ that Akyüz should have been eligible for release in late December 2019. However, the journalist was sentenced to an additional six years and three months in prison for “being a member of a [terrorist] organization”–the KCK/PKK–on December 10, 2019, according to reports. Akyüz was convicted as part of a joint trial with 96 defendants based on the 2008 crackdown on mostly Kurdish politicians, according to those reports, which said the journalist planned to file an appeal.

Added to his previous sentences of 12 years, and three years and one month, this brings Özkan’s cumulative sentence to 21 years and four months.

Özkan told CPJ in late 2020 that Akyüz is at the High Security Prison 2 in Izmir, western Turkey. The journalist’s health was satisfactory, he is allowed to receive and send mail and has access to newspapers and the journalist’s family and lawyers were allowed to visit, Özkan said.

In September 2021, Özkan told CPJ that he has not had the chance to visit his client for a long time, but he had not heard of any health complaints or problems in detention. He added that there had been no changes to Akyüz’s legal case.

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