Why covering controversial Kurdish issues amid tough anti-terrorism laws can land journalists in jail.
In Turkey, the world’s largest jailer of journalists, the government often equates reporters covering terrorist activities as advocates of terrorism.
During the past two years, there has been a dramatic increase in imprisonment and civil cases against journalists, leaving many behind bars. The number of journalists in Turkish prisons reached as high as 76 in August, CPJ reported. This year, more than 100 journalists were involved in criminal cases as of September, according to the Guardian.
Many journalists are charged for their alleged involvement with the Kurdistan Workers Party, a Kurdish revolutionary movement known under its Turkish name Partiya Karkeren Kurdistan or PKK. The PKK is part of a larger Kurdish organization called the Union of Communities of Kurdistan and known as the Koma Civakên Kurdistan or KCK. The group is fighting to gain autonomy for a Kurdish state in southeastern Turkey. Journalists covering the issue and interviewing organization members are being targeted, especially those in the media working for Azadiya Welat and the Dicle News Agency.
Below are the stories of 10 journalists who faced jail time for doing their jobs.
Vedat Kursun, Azadiya Welat
Vedat Kursun, former editor-in-chief of Azadiya Welat, was sentenced to 166 years and six months on May 13, 2010 under allegations of being a member of PKK and spreading PKK propaganda. All evidence was collected from news articles and publications he worked for. He was charged with 103 counts according to the Anti-Terror Law covering propaganda for illegal organizations.
Nedim Senar, investigative journalist, author
Nedim Senar, an investigative journalist, was jailed in March 2011 after being linked with a conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Erdogan, along with his colleague, Ahmet Sik. After 375 days, he was released. Senar also wrote a book about alleged intelligence failures that contributed to the 2007 murder of an ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink.
Ahmet Sik, investigative journalist, author
Initially Ahmet Sik was arrested along with fellow investigative reporter Nedim Senar in March 2011. Sik spent more than a year in jail after being charged for belonging to a “terrorist group,” and allegedly attempting to overthrow Prime Minster Erdogan’s government. Both Sik and Senar were released in March 2012 after 375 days in custody. Sik was writing a book about the infiltration of Islamists into the police force. After his release, he faces seven years in prison for “insulting a public official.”
Irfan Aktan, Express magazine
Aktan works for Express magazine and was charged for spreading “terrorist propaganda” for his 2009 article that included interviews with PKK members. He said in a Kurdish Aspect article, “I was summoned by an Istanbul prosecutor to testify two weeks after the article was published. My journalism activity has been stigmatized as propagandist.”
An Istanbul court in 2010 sentenced him to 18 months in prison and fined him more than $9,000. The fine was suspended under the condition that he doesn’t repeat the offense within five years.
Hamdiye Ciftci, Dicle News Agency
Hamdiye Ciftci is a journalist for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency. She told CPJ that she was arrested for publishing photographs of police breaking a 14-year-old Kurdish boy’s arm at an anti-government protest. Ciftci was released in April 2012 after almost two years in prison.
"If you don't work for the system covering orderly pieces of news, they try to bend you to their will with pressure and intimidation. And if this does not work, you will end up in prison," Ciftci wrote in a letter to CPJ.
Ozan Kilinic, Azadiya Welat
Ozan Kilinic, an editor-in-chief of the Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat, was imprisoned in July 2010. He was sentenced to more than 32 years after he was convicted under Turkey’s anti-terror law for spreading propaganda for PKK. He published reports and pictures of the PKK and its jailed leader in issues of the Azadiya Welat.
Two other of the paper’s chief editors, Tayip Temel and Mehmet Emin, were also imprisoned for similar charges.
Özlem Agüs, Dicle News Agency
As a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle News Agency, Agüs exposed sexual abuse of juveniles at Pozanti prison, which contains mostly Kurdish children. She’s accused of being a member of the Kurdish organization Union of Communities of Kurdistan (KCK) of which the PKK is a part of. If convicted, Agüs could face up to 22 years in prison. Agüs has also been accused of “jeopardizing the internal security” at a Closed Prison for Women for exposing human rights violations through letters she attempted to send from there. She is not permitted to receive letters, according to the Dicle News Agency. She has been held since early 2012.
Gulsen Aslan, Dicle News Agency
Gülsen Aslan, a reporter for the Dicle News Agency, was charged with affiliating with the Kurdish organization KCK. If convicted, she could face 15 years in prison. Originally arrested on Feb. 4, 2012, Aslan was arrested again for continuing to cover prison conditions and human rights violations that occur there. She has been imprisoned since Feb. 21, 2012.
Mehmet Emin Yıldırım, Azadiya Welat
Mehmet Emin Yıldırım an editor-in-chief of the Kurdish daily Azadiya Welat, was arrested Dec. 21, 2011 on charges related to an investigation of the KCK press committee. Reports say that he relayed information to the pro-PKK satellite station Roj TV. Mehmet Emin Yıldırım was also accused of producing coverage critical of anti-KCK police operations and aggravating pro-Kuridsh movement. Evidence was also produced that showed Mehmet Emin Yıldırım providing supplies to the PKK.
Cengiz Kapmaz, Özgür Gündem
Kapmaz, a columnist for the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem or The Free Agenda was arrested in Istanbul Nov. 22, 2011 in connection to an investigation into the KCK. He is accused of messengering orders from the PKK leader, Abdullah Öcalan to the PKK organization.
Evidence against him includes meetings and phone calls with Öcalan’s lawyers, stories he wrote for Fırat News Agency (which is allegedly connected to KCK) and a book he authored about the PKK leader. Kapmaz faces at least 10 years if convicted.
“Authorities ‘want me to pay a price’ for being a journalist who writes about the Kurdish issue and the Öcalan case,” Kapmaz said in a CPJ article.
By Nina Pantic.