Journalist Dicle Müftüoğlu not released from prison

Kurdish journalist Dicle Müftüoğlu, an editor of the Mezopotamya news agency (MA), who has been behind bars since May 2023, will remain in prison, ruled a Turkish criminal court in Amed (tr. Diyarbakır) in a hearing held on Thursday.

Dicle Müftüoğlu, who works as an editor for the Mezopotamya news agency (MA) and is co-chair of the Dicle Fırat Journalists' Association (DFG), has been in custody in Sincan Women's Prison in Ankara since May on suspicion of founding and leading a terrorist organisation and alleged membership of it. Her lawyers, including Resul Temur, Veysel Ok and Emine Özarslan, argue that the accusations against the journalist are related to her work for the free Kurdish press - also because she was detained in the course of a wave of arrests only shortly before the parliamentary and presidential elections.

Imprisoned for about 9 months, the Kurdish journalist appeared before the judge for the second time today. Müftüoğlu was not brought to the hearing at Diyarbakır 5th Heavy Penal Court. She was connected to the hearing via Audio and Video Information System (SEGBİS) from Sincan Women's Closed Prison, where she is currently imprisoned. Her lawyers Resul Temur and Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA) Co-Director Veysel Ok were present at the hearing.

DFG Co-Chair Serdar Altan, Mesopotamia Women Journalists Association (MKG) executives, TGS (Journalists Union of Turkey) General Secretary Banu Tuna, TGS Adana Branch executive Sertaç Kayar, DİSK Basın-İş President Turgut Dedeoğlu, Southeastern Journalists Association executive, DEM Party MP Sinan Çiftyürek, journalist Abdurrahman Gök and many others followed the hearing.

The hearing started with a delay of 2 hours and 50 minutes. At the same time, a number of riot police were deployed in the courtroom.

Müftüoğlu said that she would speak after listening to the witness, but when the witness was not available, she started her defence. Müftüoğlu stated that she has been under arrest for 9 months and said, "My journalistic activity is on trial in this case".

Remarking that freedom of the press is being prevented by her trial, Müftüoğlu said, "We are on trial for writing the truth. There is great pressure especially on Kurdish journalists. I am one of them."

The journalist pointed out that: "Witness statements are baseless. I went to Iraq in 2017 to follow and report on the referendum there. A journalist is obliged to go wherever the news is. There is no need for a witness statement. A search on the internet will show that I worked at the Mezopotamya Agency and made news. DFG is a legal association. We established DFG so that journalists can report news under freer conditions. This is also in the statute.”

"The indictment includes records of meetings with my colleagues and news sources. There is nothing as natural as meeting with my journalist colleagues. Every move I made is shown as an offence in the indictment. I have been under arrest for nine months and my journalistic activity is on trial. I demand my release."

After Müftüoğlu’s defense, witness Kerem Gökalp, who is also involved in the case of 11 journalists on trial in Ankara, was heard. Gökalp attended the hearing via SEGBİS. He repeated his statements in the indictment and accused Müftüoğlu.

Following the statements, the prosecutor gave a final opinion and demanded Müftüoğlu's continued detention.

Müftüoğlu said "I am a journalist, I am not engaged in organisational activities. For 15 years I have worked to convey the truth. I have fought for journalists to work in a free environment. The trial of a journalist for her news is a threat against journalists. Journalism is not a crime. I demand my release."

Announcing its interim decision, the court decided to continue the detention of Dicle Müftüoğlu. The next hearing is scheduled for 29 February.

Müftüoğlu has long been the focus of Turkish judiciary

Dicle Müftüoğlu has been the focus of Turkish prosecution authorities for some time. At the end of 2020, she was sentenced to one year and three months in prison for a photo she shared online in 2014 of the fight against ISIS in Kobanê in northern Syria. At the time, she was editor-in-chief of the DIHA news agency, which was banned by emergency decree in autumn 2016 following the alleged coup attempt in Turkey. The court accused her of "propaganda for a terrorist organisation". A few weeks later, a new investigation was initiated against her, also for alleged terrorist propaganda online. The journalist was arrested again in June 2022.

57 journalists behind bars in Turkey

According to DFG report on the violation of journalists' rights in Turkey in 2023, 57 journalists remain in prison in Turkey. During 2023, 36 journalists were attacked, 43 journalists' homes were searched, 119 journalists were detained, 36 journalists were arrested. Over the course of the year, 64 journalists were mistreated, 38 journalists were threatened and forced to act as agents, 110 journalists were prevented from following incidents for their reporting, 37 journalists were victims of assaults in custody.

In connection with violations of journalists' freedom of opinion and freedom of expression, the report presented the following data: "75 journalists were investigated. While 66 journalists were prosecuted, 44 journalists were convicted. In total, journalists were sentenced to 48 years, 9 months and 14 days in prison and fined 147,486 TL. While the trial of 280 journalists continued, they appeared before the judge 821 times. The number of imprisoned journalists as of 4 January 2024 is 57. 58 journalists were dismissed, the Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) imposed 84 penalties on 68 broadcasts, and 112 news items were banned from broadcasting. 83 websites were closed, 7,106 news items were blocked and 3,761 pieces of content on social media were banned."