Idris Yılmaz, a reporter with the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, and Vildan Atmaca, a reporter with the women’s news agency Jin Haber Ajansı, were detained in the Erciş district of Van, a city in eastern Turkey, on November 13, 2015, according to reports. The two had gone to the district to follow up on claims that Van residents had been injured by Turkish soldiers.
Authorities accused Yılmaz and Atmaca of “making terrorist propaganda” for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) on social media and Yılmaz was also accused of insulting the president on social media, according to documents from the police, prosecutor, and court that were reviewed by CPJ. On November 14, 2015, a court ordered the two reporters to be held pending an investigation, reports said.
Turkish authorities use the country’s broad anti-terror laws to prosecute journalists who cover sensitive topics, including Kurdish issues and banned organizations such as the PKK, CPJ has found. CPJ has documented how Turkey has used anti-terror laws for years to imprison journalists and has recently been cracking down on social media posts, particularly by utilizing the country’s insult laws.
According to Yılmaz’s police testimony, which CPJ has reviewed, the journalist said he and Atmaca were among a group of reporters who had been turned away from a local hospital by police after trying to investigate rumors that residents had been injured by Turkish soldiers. Since a fragile ceasefire between Turkish authorities and PKK fighters ended in July 2015, clashes between security forces and rebels have become frequent in eastern and southeastern Turkey, according to reports.
Yılmaz’s testimony says that later that day he and Atmaca were at a café with journalists from other news outlets when plain-clothed police approached and said they were detaining Yılmaz for “producing biased news.” Several journalists who stood up for Yılmaz were arrested alongside him but, with the exception of Atmaca, the others were released the next day, according to reports. In a video showing the arrests, which was posted to YouTube by Van TV, police are seen shooting in the air to disperse a crowd.
According to police and court documents that CPJ viewed, Yılmaz was accused of creating terrorism propaganda and running a pro-PKK Facebook page called Ajans Erciş. The reporter stated in police testimony that he had no links to the Facebook page. Yılmaz was questioned about Facebook posts he allegedly made on his personal account that authorities said were pro-PKK, according to the documents. The reporter denied that the posts were terrorist propaganda.
Yılmaz was also accused of insulting the president through a cartoon posted to his personal Facebook page that showed President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan defecating on a map of Turkey, according to the documents. In testimony before the Erciş Chief Prosecutor’s Office on November 13, 2015, the journalist said he did not accept any of the accusations made against him and said he did not think the figure featured in the cartoon looked like the president.
According to police testimony reviewed by CPJ, Atmaca was questioned about posts on her personal Facebook page dated August 2014, including a quote from a convicted PKK leader that authorities claimed conveyed sympathies for the organization. She was also questioned about a tweet dated October 14, 2015, in which she criticized Van police for allegedly firing on civilians. Atmaca denied the social media posts were terrorist propaganda, according to her testimony.
Yılmaz and Atmaca are both held in the Van M-Type Prison, the journalists’ lawyer told CPJ.