The Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has prepared an indictment against 22 individuals, including 20 journalists, after a nine-month and ten-day investigation, reported Mezopotamya News Agency on 28 March.
Sixteen of the 20 journalists were arrested on 16 June 2022, while the remaining four were released, following an investigation based in Diyarbakır (Amed). The two other individuals included in the indictment were a cook and an interviewer. The charges are related to allegations of being members of an illegal organisation.
The arrest of the journalists is part of a broader crackdown on media freedom in Turkey. In September 2022, Turkey arrested six journalists and sued 14 others over terrorism charges. On 30 November 2022, a Turkish court sentenced Engin Eren and 28 other journalists to more than three years in prison for “aiding a terrorist organisation without being its member.” According to the Media and Legal Studies Association, 143 journalists appeared before the courts over “propagandising for a terrorist organisation” between September 2021 and July 2022.
In December 2022, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) demanded that Turkey explain the arrest of two journalists, İhsan Yaşar, and Mehmet Ali Çelebi from the Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper. The court asked Turkey whether the journalists’ freedom of expression – in terms of the dissemination of information – had been violated and whether their deprivation of liberty was a violation of Article 5/1 of the Convention. The Turkish government had appointed a trustee to Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper in March 2018 and shut the paper down soon after in July 2018.
The Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office has sent the indictment of the 20 journalists to the Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court. The court will examine the indictment and make a decision within 15 days on whether to accept it or not. If the indictment is accepted, the trial process will begin.
The 16 journalists who have been arrested include Serdar Altan, Co-Chair of Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), Aziz Oruç, Editor of Mezopotamya Agency (MA), and Mehmet Ali Ertaş, Managing Editor of Xwebûn newspaper, who were detained in house and workplace raids on 16 June 2022. Additionally, JINNEWS Managing Editor Safiye Alağaş and journalists Zeynel Abidin Bulut, Ömer Çelik, Mazlum Doğan Güler, İbrahim Koyuncu, Neşe Toprak, Elif Üngür, Abdurrahman Öncü, Suat Doğuhan, Remziye Temel, Ramazan Geciken, Lezgin Akdeniz, and Mehmet Şahin were also arrested.
The arrested journalists’ lengthy pre-trial detention of over nine months had been criticised by the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG) and the Mezopotamya Women Journalists Platform (MKGP) who had demanded the immediate release of the Kurdish journalists, calling it a crime to keep them in prison without an indictment. The agencies had also argued that Turkey continued to violate free press rights and used the judiciary as a punishment that poses a threat to independent journalism. DFG Co-chair Dicle Müftüoğlu had stated that there was “not a single piece of evidence” that could be used against the jailed journalists, and the evidence confiscated in the raids against media organisations “clearly shows that they are being targeted for their journalistic activities, not because they are members of an illegal organisation.”
The Turkish government has been repeatedly criticised by international human rights organisations for its crackdown on media freedom and the detention of journalists. According to Reporters Without Borders’ 2022 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranks 153rd out of 180 countries, with the country’s journalists facing imprisonment, harassment, and censorship.