A helicopter torture case and four Kurdish journalists

The prosecutor who is investigating the infamous helicopter torture case in Van – subject to a confidentiality order - is the same prosecutor who pressed charges against four journalists to send them to jail. As laws get ‘tougher’, not only journalists, but anyone who expresses a critical opinion gets closer to a prison sentence.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu claimed that Turkey respects human rights, but a quick look at the grave press freedom record reveals where the country is heading. 

In fact, harassing, suppressing, censoring, punishing journalists became so ordinary and systematic that it no longer makes it to the news. 

When the journalist or publication is well connected and campaigned for, it might get the attention of the international media. As for the Turkish mainstream media and a much of the opposition media, most of the trials and detentions of journalists are not even mentioned. 

That is not surprising given the media tend to ignore human right abuses when it comes to Kurds. 

Last week, four Kurdish journalists based in Van were arrested. Two of them, namely Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporters Cemil Uğur and Adnan Bilen were the first to report on the severe torture claims of two Kurdish villagers in Van, who were detained and apparently thrown out of a military helicopter. One of them, Servet Turgut died in intensive care on September 30. 

MA’s reporting on the case continued throughout September, with eyewitnesses, hospital records and interviews of the victim’s relatives.  

The only official statement came from the governor of Van, who claimed “they fell off the cliffs whilst escaping” and of course, a publication ban followed. It turns out the Kurdish villagers’ death and their torture was not newsworthy enough for most of the media, even though the main oppositional party CHP publicly questioned it.  

Meanwhile, access to MA has been banned on Sept. by the government.. A handful of independent digital media outlets ran news in Turkish. This means most of the public does not even know what happened. 

The prosecutor who is investigating the Van torture case – subject to a confidentiality order - is the same prosecutor who pressed charges against the four journalists to send them to jail.

On a phone call with the journalists’ lawyer, Barış Oflaz said the journalists were not asked about the torture story. The questions put forward by the judge were directly related with journalistic activities. 

“They were asked why they criticized government policies in their reporting, why they did interviews with HDP politicians, reported on hunger strikes in prisons. The two female journalists, Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala of JinNews were also asked about their reporting on domestic violence and femicide cases.”

Four Kurdish journalists were arrested on the grounds of “reporting news to the detriment of the state” and “being a member KCK, related to the PKK”. Another important part of the warrant claimed that “the suspects were reporting news continuously, diversely, intensely”! 

So far, there is no evidence supporting the membership accusation. Still, the judge decided they couldn’t be journalists, as they didn’t have a press card issued by the Turkish Presidency’s Communications Office! 

According to that was data confirmed by Press In Arrest, at least 223 journalists stood trial or continue to stand trial as per Anti-Terror Law, which is excluded from the scope of the latest amendment. 

Sinan Tartanoğlu writes “It is not only this latest amendment, but all the other legislation that was passed with promises of more liberty, which prevent journalism from being accepted as a universal right. As laws get ‘tougher’, not only journalists, but anyone who expresses a critical opinion gets closer to a prison sentence. As journalists get closer to imprisonment, the freedom of press and expression itself is increasingly reclassified as an offense against the state.”(Please check the detailed analysis of Press in Arrest on the matter.)