A court in Turkey’s Kurdish-majority Diyarbakır (Amed) province ruled to remand 16 Kurdish journalists in prison, Mezopotamya Agency reported on Wednesday.
The journalists had been arrested as part of a larger group of 21 in June, and sent to prison after eight days in police custody while five of their colleagues were released.
Lawyers for the journalists, who are facing terrorism charges over the stories they have covered and outlets they work for, have been unable to access the case files to prepare an adequate defence for their clients, they said during the hearing. This is due to a restriction order on the case.
Evidence entered into the record has not been vetted for accuracy for the same reason, lawyer Resul Temur said. The journalists’ right to a free trial has been violated, according to the lawyer, as they have not been able to demand evidence gathering in their favour or present counter evidence.
The prosecutor who ran the investigation submitted a request for the journalists’ imprisonment “a few minutes after their testimony was done”, Temur said. “This means the document was prepared in advance and only the testimonies were added at the last minute.”
The court rejecting the lawyers’ appeals for release is in violation of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) bylaws, Temur said.
According to the lawyer, an order of arrest without strong suspicion based on concrete evidence combined with another reason to apprehend a defendant constitutes unjust punishment, in violation of the principle of proportionality as well as domestic and international laws.
Temur also submitted into evidence previous rulings by the ECHR and Turkey’s Constitutional Court.
Journalists facing charges of membership in a terrorist organisation also violates freedom of the press as their reporting has been “manipulated” to form a basis for the charges, Temur said.
On the day of the arrests, ahead of lawyers receiving any information on their clients, Turkey’s state broadcaster TRT had announced that the charges stemmed from audio visual material the journalists produced for Europe-based Kurdish-focused networks, including the Turkish language Medya Haber TV and Sterk TV, which has programming in Turkish and Kurdish.
Evidence of terrorist activity TRT cited included reporting of F-16 jets taking flight from Diyarbakır, and covering statements by top cadres of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey considers to be terrorist.
There are at least 77 journalists behind bars in Turkey as of July 2022, according to a report by the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), the co-chair of which is among the arrested 16.