‘There can be no democracy unless the Kurdish press is free’

Representatives of journalist unions, organizations and political parties expressed their solidarity with the 15 Kurdish journalists standing trial in Diyarbakır today after 13 months in pre-trial detention.

As part of an investigation carried out by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor's Office, 22 people, 20 of them journalists, were detained in raids on houses and media outlets in many Amed-centered cities on 8 June 2022. Among those detained, were JinNews Director Safiye Alagaş, Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DGF) Co-chair Serdar Altan, Mesopotamia Agency (MA) editor Aziz Oruç, Xwebûn Editor-in-Chief Mehmet Ali Ertaş, journalists Zeynel Abidin Bulut, Ömer Çelik, Mazlum Doğan Güler, İbrahim Koyuncu, Neşe Toprak, Elif Üngür, Abdurrahman Öncü, Suat Doğuhan, Remziye Temel, Ramazan Geciken, Lezgin Akdeniz and Mehmet Şahin were arrested 8 days later by the court they were brought to.

After 10 months, an indictment was prepared against 18 journalists, 3 of them not in prison, demanding 7 years, 6 months to 15 years in prison for "membership in a terrorist organization".The imprisoned journalists have appeared in court today after 13 months in custody. Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), Mesopotamia Women Journalists Platform (MKGP), Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS), Contemporary Journalists Association (ÇGD), DİSK Basın-İş, MLSA, Journalists Protection Committee (CPJ) and representatives of many professional organizations are attending the hearing. In addition, lawyers who are members of Amsterdam Law Offices, legal organizations such as Amed Bar Association, Lawyers Association for Freedom (ÖHD), representatives of MED-DER and IHD, as well as deputies from the Green Left Party, HDP and CHP are following the hearing.

A press statement was made by the DFG and Mesopotamia Women Journalists’ Platform in front of the courthouse with the participation of several journalists, organizations, NGOs and deputies.

Journalist Hüseyin Aykol pointed out that, for the past 34 years, the reports prepared by the Kurdish press have disturbed the governments which, he said, have taken all kinds of measures to prevent Kurdish journalism.

“Our colleagues have been imprisoned, killed or forced into exile, while our newspapers were shut down, and offices bombed. Still, we have continued to do our work. Repression against us has increased lately and many of our colleagues have been put in prison because they did not want us to be on the ground to cover the elections, which was considered a turning point both for the government and the opposition. Our colleagues jailed in Ankara were released following the first hearing and we also expect our colleagues here to be released today. Regardless of the repression, we will continue doing journalism,” Aykol said.

The Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) President Gökhan Durmuş defined today’s hearing as one of the most important trials of the press in Turkey’s recent history. “Having awaited the indictment for months, they appeared in court 13 months after their arrests. Had they stood trial earlier, they could have been released already. Journalists are taken into custody but there is no crime in question. Our colleagues will eventually be released but they would not have spent such a long time in prison if a fair legal system existed. We will stand in solidarity with our imprisoned colleagues and prove that journalism is a public service. We will do journalism and convey our news to our people.”

The Committee of Journalists Vice President Yusuf Kanlı said: “The press is going through challenging times and conditions, as was the case in the past and is today. Our colleagues have been deprived of their liberty for 13 months only because they wrote news. Journalism is no crime. We expect our colleagues to be acquitted today and we hope that just heavy prices will not be paid anymore.”

MLSA Co-Director Veysel Ok said: “Our colleagues are imprisoned mainly because they exposed the state violence in relation with the Kurdish issue lately and reported about violations of rights. We will do whatever we can for their release.”

Green Left Party MP for Diyarbakır, Cengiz Çandar, defined the hearing as “one of the disgraceful events in Turkey’s legal history” and “a milestone in the struggle for press freedom in Turkey”.

“President Erdoğan is having talks at the NATO Summit at the moment. Turkey’s path to the European Union passes through Diyarbakır. And the path from Diyarbakır to the European Union passes through the recognition of Kurds’ rights and the freedom of the press. Without these conditions, all the paths to democracy would remain blocked. This case against 15 journalists, who have been held in pre-trial detention for 13 months, also shows that the Kurdish media is not alone as the media representatives of Turkey also speak out here today. We will claim the freedom of the Kurdish people and the press. The release of journalists will mark a step towards the Kurdish people’s freedom of information.”
CHP MP Sezgin Tanrıkulu pointed out that the indictment against journalists was full of arguments that do not accord with the law. “There is no justifiable evidence even, but only fabricated accounts of confessors and secret witnesses. This case and hearing show how important journalism is.”