The first hearings of the journalists who reported on the torture of Kurdish villagers by Turkish military officers, and were subsequently arrested, will take place on 2 April in Turkey’s eastern province of Van (Wan), the Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reports.
MA reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, Jin News reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala were arrested after they reported that Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut, two Kurdish villagers from Van, were detained and thrown from a military helicopter by Turkish military officers. MA reporter Zeynep Durgut is also on trial for the same case without arrest.
Van 5th High Criminal Court has accused the five journalists on charges of “terrorism”. Nazan Sala is in additionally charged with “terrorism propaganda”.
Journalists Cemil Uğur and Adnan Bilen sent their messages from prison before their upcoming hearing and called for solidarity with all incarcerated journalists in Turkey.
Adnan Bilen: Journalism is on trial
Adnan Bilen shared his message with the outside world through his weekly phone call.
“We were arrested for telling the truth,” Bilen said, “There is no evidence of any crime in the indictment prepared against us, we are still hopeful despite all negative circumstances.”
“The journalists should not be kept in prisons, they should be on the field on the streets. Journalism is on trial. It should be the duty of any journalist to defend us and defend journalism.”
Cemil Uğur: An indictment of shame
In a letter written from prison Cemil Uğur described the indictiment prepared against him and his colleagues as “an indictment of shame”.
“In the indictment, the prosecutor defined our books, our magazines, and Yeni Yaşam Newspaper as if they were banned or illegal publications, even though none of them are,” Uğur said. “It is tragicomic that these publications, which are legally published and distributed throughout Turkey, are considered as criminal evidence.”
He also underlined that the state is trying to illegalise the Mesopotamia News Agency. “MA is the voice of the unheard, oppressed people in this country. I am also the representative of MA’s Van Bureau. Those who want to marginalise MA want to bring all media outlets under their control,” Uğur said.
The ‘duty’ of the journalist
Another issue mentioned in the indictment is the phone call that Uğur made for an interview with the family of the convict Engin Aktaş. Aktaş is behind bars even though on five occasions the Forensic Medicine Institute (ATK) prepared an official report showing that he “cannot remain jailed” due to his health conditions.
“We will continue to defend the rights of people,” said Uğur. “If a prisoner is not released despite the official medical report, there is unlawfulness here. It is our duty to announce this to the public. Criminalising our profession is a violation of the public’s right to information.”
‘Revealing torture is our crime’
Uğur said their investigations into torture have drawn hostile attention from the state.
“What lies behind this arrest is that I investigated what happened to Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut,” he said. “We heard that they were in intensive care after they were detained by the military officers. Servet Turgut died in intensive care. The torture was revealed by the statements of the witnesses, hospital reports, and the photographs we received while the two citizens were still in the hospital. But officials made contradictory statements to cover up the incident,” Uğur said.
Uğur underlined in his letter that they do not accept being put on trial just because they performed their profession as journalists.
“Freedom of press and freedom of expression and thought are currently being discussed within the scope of the ‘Human Rights Action Plan’ in Turkey now. It is a bitter irony to talk about freedom of expression and thought as long as we and many other journalists are behind bars just because we have performed our profession. We will continue to conduct our profession at all costs. Because journalism is not a crime,” he said.