A court in Diyarbakır (Amed) has sentenced Kurdish photojournalist Abdurrahman Gök to 18 months in prison for ‘terrorist propaganda’ over photographs he took in northern Syria in recent years, and also during Newroz celebrations in 2017, Mezopotamya Agency reported.
Gök had captured on camera the moment Kemal Kurkut, a 23-year-old arts student, was killed by police officers at a check point as he entered the celebration grounds for the Newroz celebrations. Pro-government sources had presented the killing as the ‘neutralisation of a suicide bomber’, but Gök’s photographs clearly show the young man being shot in his back while holding nothing more than a water bottle. Kurkut was also not wearing a shirt at the time, and so could not be hiding any explosives on his person.
“Security forces and the prosecution are seeking revenge,” Gök said during his defence statement on Wednesday. “I published photos that revealed the lies of the Security Directorate and the Diyarbakır governor, who parroted the police statement, and also the Interior Ministry, who defended the perpetrators of this murder.”
The journalist was accused of terrorist propaganda over photos he took in the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobane, due to photos depicting armed members of Kurdish forces, including of those that Turkey considers to be terrorist groups.
“The prosecution must have realised that I could not be convicted over such baseless allegations, so that they now claim I made terrorist propaganda by cherrypicking a few photos,” he said.
“These are news photos I took as I worked as a war reporter in conflict zones. They have been published in agencies I work for and in newspapers, web sites and televisions,” Gök said. “I do not believe the prosecution would have argued my photos constituted terrorist propaganda if the captions said Libya, Bab, Idlib, Latakia or Azerbaijan instead of Kobane. I do not know of any journalist who faces such charges because the photos they took in a conflict zone that included fighters who were wielding weapons.”
“I survived war zones, and now, eight years later, I face trial for my journalism,” he said.
Journalists, via their work, can document crimes, help uphold human rights, and encourage international solidarity, he continued. “Journalists have helped obtain crucial evidence to hold war criminals accountable as they reported on conflict.”
Speaking to Mezopotamya Agency ahead of the sentencing, Gök said he held his head high.
“I am proud of the job I do. We are in the free press business. We will never step back.” he said.
Gök’s documentation through images of Kurkut’s death “resulted in years of official harassment”, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement, calling on Turkey to “stop pursuing trumped-up terrorism charges against members of the press”.
“Turkey must allow journalists to do their jobs without fear of such retaliation,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia program director Gulnoza Said.