Eighteen Kurdish journalists charged with terrorism have been released by a Turkish court in Diyarbakır (Amed) on Wednesday. The journalists were behind the bars for 13 months.
The indictment against 18 Kurdish journalists in Turkey does not contain any evidence of criminal activity, the defendants said in their defence on the second day of their trial, arguing that the case is part of the Turkish government’s ongoing crackdown against pro-Kurdish circles.
Aziz Oruç, an editor with Mezopotamya Agency (MA), pointed out that the practice of labelling individuals as terrorists has become widespread in the country under the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
“After 400 days, we have finally made it to the courtroom,” he said in his defence testimony. “We are not being imprisoned for committing a crime, but rather to pay the price for practising journalism.”
According to the indictment, presented over nine months after the arrest of the journalists, the charges against Oruç include conducting street interviews on various occasions such as International Mother Language Day, Newroz (Kurdish New Year), International Women’s Day, the elections and Labour Day.
Elif Üngür, a journalist specialising in culture and the environment, revealed that she has been involved in the filming of 240 TV programmes and covered over 2,000 news items, out of which only 22 have been subject to charges. Of these, seven of the news items were related to Newroz.
Mehmet Şahin explained that the accusation against him was based on his speech at a Confederation of Public Workers’ Unions (KESK) rally in 2018, during which he declared, “We will fight against injustice and unlawfulness, and we will not remain silent.”
The prosecutor has called for an extension of the detention of the journalists who are still remanded in custody, citing “the existing state of evidence, the nature of the offense, and pending evidence yet to be collected.”
The trial, which revolves around accusations of “membership of an illegal organisation” based on the journalists’ professional activities, began on Tuesday in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır (Amed).
The 18 journalists, who all work for pro-Kurdish media outlets and are faced with up to 15 years in prison, were initially detained during a series of raids on 8 June 2022. Fifteen of them have now been in pre-trial detention for over a year.
Lawyers and human rights defenders criticise the protracted judicial process in Turkey, viewing it as a form of punishment and a deterrent tactic.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released a statement on Tuesday, calling for the Kurdish journalists’ immediate release and an end to “the manipulation of anti-terrorist legislation by the Turkish judicial authorities”.
Over the past year, approximately 30 Kurdish journalists have been accused of similar charges, with their professional activities being equated to support for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The authorities have included charges on the basis of allegations of collaboration with local Kurdish production agencies, of sharing posts on social networks related to the Kurdish question, and of the definition of the term “war” in conflicts along the Iraq and Syrian borders.