Imprisoned Turkish journalist Merdan Yanardağ believes his arrest on Tuesday was not based on legal grounds but rather politically motivated.
“There are special reasons why they attack TELE1 and Merdan Yanardağ,” the journalist wrote from prison in a letter published by daily BirGün. “The government is based on the weakest balance. That is why they need to spread fear. They are trying to make an example (of me) so citizens will silence themselves.”
Yanardağ faced a defamation campaign after criticising Turkish authorities for preventing any contact with the outside world for jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) founding leader Abdullah Öcalan for more than two years. The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and nationalist opposition Good Party (İYİP) led the charge, and the journalist was arrested shortly after his comments during a live broadcast.
“This is a continuation of their election strategy of doctored videos. I believe my arrest was not a lawful process but a political one. This will become apparent soon,” he said. “I will never bow down to this thinking.”
“In my analysis I did not praise or berate anybody. I made a prediction,” the journalist continued. Yanardağ believes the AKP is preparing for a renewed process similar to what they called the Kurdish Opening. “It appears that they didn’t enjoy being caught red handed.”
“The concepts I used, including ‘isolation’, are commonly used in politics and discussions of law. The real issue here is basing politics on Öcalan, which is what the government is doing. I wanted to expose that, as the public is unaware what was discussed with Öcalan, if anything, and what decisions have been made,” he said.
Yanardağ will face charges of praising criminals and terrorist propaganda.
Upon Yanardağ’s arrest, European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) Secretary General Ricardo Gutierrez said European governments and policy makers should prioritise media freedom and fundamental rights in their relations with Turkey, particularly now that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been elected president again.
Violations of press freedom in Turkey have surpassed those in Russia and other top culprits, Gutierrez said.
Abdullah Öcalan was arrested and sentenced to death in 1999 over charges of high treason and terrorism. His sentence was commuted to life in prison when Turkey removed capital punishment from the books. He has been held in a special prison on an island in the Marmara Sea, as the sole occupant for much of his incarceration. Although several other high-level PKK convicts moved to the prison over time, their access to the outside world has been limited for most of the past 24 years. The inmates of İmralı Island Prison have not been allowed to contact their lawyers or families at all for more than 25 months as of June 2023.