“The free press in Turkey will not be silenced, no matter what,” said veteran journalist Merdan Yanardağ, who was sent to prison on Tuesday for criticising the isolation of Abdullah Öcalan in a TV programme on Sunday.
In a message conveyed through his son Alp Yanardağ, the journalist stated, “We are witnessing the continuation of orchestrated plots that began during the pre-election period. We are not afraid. We will persistent in upholding the truth.”
Yanardağ, editor-in-chief of the the internet TV channel TELE 1, became the subject of an investigation and was subsequently charged with glorifying criminal activities, after asserting that the isolation imposed on Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan at İmralı Island Prison was a violation of the law.
Yanardağ’s arrest drew widespread condemnation, prompting the Diyarbakır (Amed) Bar Association to highlight Article 28 of the Turkish Constitution, which guarantees freedom of expression, and demand the dismissal of charges against and immediate release of Yanardağ.
Bilgütay Hakkı Durna, Yanardağ’s lawyer, referred to past legal cases involving the journalist, stating, “We were aware that there was a desire to arrest Merdan. By charging him with disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organisation, they sought to legitimise the arrest both in the court of public opinion and within the legal framework.”
The pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and the Green Left Party also issued statements denouncing the exploitation of law and democracy as justifications for Yanardağ’s imprisonment, and joined the calls for Yanardağ’s prompt release.
During the TV programme in question, Yanardağ criticised the secretive policies of the ruling government and remarked that Öcalan had been turned into a bargaining chip by the government, which subsequently led to the charges against him.
“[Öcalan] cannot even meet with his family or lawyers. What kind of a sentencing regime is this?” he said. “Öcalan is not someone to be underestimated. He is an extremely intelligent person who reads a lot, correctly understands politics, and correctly analyses it.”
Following the broadcast, Yanardağ became the target of government-affiliated media outlets as well as members of Turkey’s centre-right opposition Good Party (İYİP), who accused him of “praising Öcalan.”
The Good Party also faced criticism for its targeting of the journalist after his arrest.