EFJ condemns raid on Kurdish TVs in Belgium

The European Federation of Journalists strongly condemned the show of force that accompanied the search in the studios of Kurdish television channels Stêrk TV and Medya Haber in Belgium.

On the night of 22-23 April 2024, the Belgian federal police searched the premises of the building of the Kurdish television channels Stêrk TV and Medya Haber (Medya News) in Denderleeuw, Flanders. The police operation was conducted as part of a European Investigation Order (EPO) on terrorist financing. The news channels reported serious material damage and equipment seizure. The European Federation of Journalists (EFJ) joined its Belgian affiliate, the Flemish Association of Journalists (VVJ), in strongly condemning the show of force that accompanied the search and urged authorities to guarantee that the confidentiality of journalists’ sources is respected.

The search lasted from 1 am to 4.30 am, involving over 200 police officers on the premises of Stêrk TV and Medya Haber in Denderleeuw city. As the images show, several doors were forced open and their handles removed. In several rooms, false ceilings were also smashed and large LED screens were damaged. The Public Prosecutor’s Office also seized two computers which, in addition to accounting and banking operations, were mainly used for journalistic work, putting the confidentiality of journalistic sources at risk.  

According to the Federal Public Prosecutor, the search was conducted at the request of the French national PNAT national anti-terrorist prosecutor’s office. As part of an investigation into the financing of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), the French authorities suspect the television channels to be connected with the PKK. The party, on the terror list of the European Union, is no longer considered a terrorist organisation in Belgium. 

“We do not judge the opportunity of the investigation, that’s not our league, but we denounce the show of force that accompanied the actions and the considerable damage done. We do hope that all press freedom guarantees have been met during the procedure,” stated VVJ General Secretary Charlotte Michils, after witnessing the damage on site.

The EFJ joins the Flemish Association of Journalists in calling on the Belgian Federal Police for clarification: “The confidentiality of journalistic sources equally applies to the Kurdish TV channels based in Belgium. Any breach must be proportionate and treated with the utmost caution,” added EFJ General Secretary Ricardo Gutiérrez.  

This is not the first time that Kurdish TV channels in Denderleeuw have been the target of these massive police raids. There have been two similar police crackdowns in the past, in 1996 and 2010. None of the searches resulted in follow-up action.

The same night, Turkish police detained nine journalists working for pro-Kurdish media outlets in Istanbul, Ankara, and Urfa in raids on suspicion of terrorist activities. According to the Agence France Presse (AFP), the raids in Belgium had “no link” to the arrests in Turkey.