Below is a translation of journalist Sedat Yılmaz’s article for the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), lightly edited for clarity.
The Turkish Presidential Communications Directorate, as part of its policies against all opposition structures, has been constantly changing the laws regulating press cards since 2018 on the grounds that “those who make terrorist propaganda take refuge behind the press card.”
For example, in a lawsuit filed against the country’s press card regulation adopted in 2018, the Council of State’s Administrative Law Divisions issued a decision on 4 November 2020 to stop the execution of several articles of the regulation, on the grounds that “the authority of the Directorate of Communications is limited to issuing cards; it does not have the authority to determine to whom the card will be issued and in which cases the press card will be cancelled.”
Following this decision, Presidential Communications Director Fahrettin Altun posted on his Twitter account on 1 April 2021, saying, “Some articles of our press card regulation have been cancelled by the Council of State. We immediately started working to do better. As long as we are in office, we will fight those who make ‘terrorism propaganda’ under the name of ‘journalism’. Let the supporters of terror not rejoice in vain!”
Following Altun’s message, the Directorate actually amended the regulation once again on 20 May 2021, against which the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), the Journalists’ Associations, the Association of Contemporary Journalists (ÇGD) and the Turkish Photojournalists Association filed a lawsuit.
Subsequently, on 15 November 2022, the Council of State once again annulled the articles of the regulation covering the issuance and revocation of press cards to journalists, emphasising the “democratic society” and stating that “the press has the right to report and criticise”.
And lastly, in response to the Council, the Directorate announced on 10 April that the “new” version of the press card regulation had been published in the Official Gazette.
In fact, given the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s pressure on the Turkish press, it would not be wrong to say that the regulation has been, up until today, de facto implemented as Altun wanted. It is common knowledge that the constitutional assurances of “freedom of communication”, “freedom of expression and dissemination of thought” and “freedom of the press” are under great threat, and that there is a series of pressures ranging from censorship to administrative and legal penalties.
However, there are also some articles of the regulation that are closely related to the Kurdish press, which can be seen as the reflection of the anti-terror law on the press card regulation.
‘Similar to a press card!’
An arrangement under the title of “Press Card Analogous Regulation” is one of those used as a weapon against Kurdish journalists: “In the event that persons who have arranged a similar card in terms of typesetting, font, arrangement, form and colour to the press cards issued by the presidency or used these cards are identified, criminal complaints shall be lodged with the Public Prosecutor’s Office appointed by the Presidency. No press cards shall be issued to these persons even if they meet the conditions specified in this Regulation until the investigation and / or prosecution is definitively completed, and if any press cards are issued, they shall be temporarily cancelled.”
Although this statement appears to be a regulation put in place to prevent the printing of fake cards, in practice Kurdish journalists are experiencing its consequence in the field in a much more severe dimension.
An example of this took place not long ago, immediately after the 6 February earthquakes that shook Turkey’s southeast and devastated 10 cities, including Şanlıurfa (Riha). On 8 February, while following the search and rescue operations in the rubble in which 21 people were found dead in Birecik district of Şanlıurfa, Mezopotamya Agency (MA) reporter Mahmut Altıntaş and JinNews reporter Sema Çağlak were taken into custody, for they did not have the “turquoise” cards given by the Communications Directorate.
During the interrogation, police asked the detained reporters questions such as “Why did you come to Birecik?” and “Who gave you press cards?” After their statements, the journalists were released but their press cards were confiscated, citing the cards were “fake and counterfeit”.
In another incident, JinNews reporter Gülistan Dursun and a trainee reporter of MA were detained on 17 March while covering the vigil of the Şenyaşar family, who were attacked by the bodyguards and relatives of an AKP legislator in Suruç district of Şanlıurfa on 14 June 2018, and were released after their ID cards were confiscated as “fake and counterfeit”.
The article of the regulation under the heading “General conditions for those who can obtain a press card” stipulates that “In order to be eligible to apply for a press card, applicants must not have been convicted of crimes committed with the aim of terrorism or … in accordance with Article 4 of the Law on the Prevention of Terrorism Financing”, which is an embargo on press cards for Kurdish journalists.
The data clearly proves that Kurdish press workers are frequently subjected to judicial attacks because of their news stories, social media posts and statements. Due to this embargo, Kurdish press workers are denied this right despite their active work in the field.
16 journalists imprisoned on trial in Diyarbakır
An example of a concrete reflection of this article is the accusation of membership in a terrorist organisation against 16 journalists working in the Kurdish media in Diyarbakır (Amed), 14 of whom are incarcerated.
The indictment against my imprisoned colleagues was prepared and submitted to the court in March, 10 months after their arrest. The journalists, who are still in prison despite their long detention period, will appear before a judge in July.
Nine journalists arrested in Ankara
Nine of the journalists who were detained in an Ankara-based operation against the Kurdish press in October 2022 were arrested by the court and sent to Sincan Prison.
The investigation into the journalists arrested in Ankara was completed after three and a half months and the charges were turned into an indictment.
A total of 149 news reports by journalists were cited as criminal elements in the indictment. The court scheduled the first hearing for 16 May, after the elections.
A call for solidarity
This being the case, I urge all press professional organisations to read Turkey’s press card regulation from the perspective of Kurdish journalists and put our 25 imprisoned colleagues on their agenda.
Sedat Yılmaz is a journalist working in the fields of regional inequality, income distribution injustice, poverty, working life, workplace deaths, media criticism and power relations.