Journalist Merdan Yanardağ arrested over criticizing jailed PKK leader Öcalan's contact ban

Turkish journalist Merdan Yanardağ has been arrested as part of an investigation launched into his remarks criticizing the contact ban imposed upon jailed PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan who has been kept in isolation on İmralı Island in Bursa.

Duvar English

A Turkish court on June 27 arrested journalist Merdan Yanardağ, one day after his detention, over his remarks criticizing the contact ban imposed upon jailed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Öcalan, which stirred a huge reaction among the government and opposition figures. 

During a live broadcast on Tele1, Yanardağ on June 20 said the contact ban and isolation imposed upon Öcalan should be lifted and added that “Abdullah Öcalan is over 70 years old, it has been a long time since he has been in jail, 25 years without interruption. He is the longest serving political prisoner in Turkey. If normal execution laws apply, he should actually be released, in a house arrest etc. The isolation imposed upon Abdullah Öcalan has no place in law. It has to be lifted.”

“Abdullah Öcalan is not someone to be taken lightly. He almost became a philosopher in prison because he does nothing but read. He is an extremely intelligent person who reads politics correctly, sees it correctly, and analyzes it correctly,” Yanardağ added.

His remarks stirred a huge reaction among several ruling and opposition party, especially Good (İYİ) Party figures after pro-government figures targeted him. 

An investigation was launched against Yanardağ on the grounds of “praising the crime and the criminal” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Moreover, Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTÜK) chair Ebubekir Şahin announced on Twitter that they launched an investigation against Tele1 over Yanardağ’s remarks, arguing Yanardağ "praised the terrorist leader, the murderer of thousands."

After the accusations, Yanardağ said on Tele1 that he “did not praise any terrorist organization and its leader.” 

“I made an assessment stating that the AKP wants to start a new peace process, and is preparing an amnesty to Öcalan. Because Öcalan is in isolation, we do not know about the ongoing bargaining, and that such strict isolations are not implemented in execution laws in democratic countries,” he said.

He added he is a “patriotic and socialist journalist” and it is not possible for him to “praise any terrorist act.”

“There is no praise, on the contrary, there is an ironic criticism of appraisal of AKP's policies, you will see,” he noted.

Main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said in a tweet that Yanardağ's arrest "is shameful for our country."

"The Palace government, which has lost its moral authority, continues its perception management with montage videos. It is embarrassing for our country that journalist Merdan Yanardag was arrested over a part of his speech in which he reminded what the government did and why. This mistake should be reversed immediately and Merdan Yanardağ should be released," he said.

PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan has been kept in isolation for 24 years in F Type High-Security Prison on İmralı Island in Bursa. The jailed PKK leader last had a brief phone call with his brother on March 25, 2021. Since the interrupted phone call, no information has been received from Öcalan as well as other prisoners on the island (Hamili Yıldırım, Veysi Aktaş, and Ömer Hayri Konar).

The prison administration prevented Öcalan and other prisoners from receiving visitors with a decision taken on May 7, 2021. In addition, on Oct. 12, 2021, the Bursa 4th Execution Judgeship ruled to prevent Öcalan from meeting with his lawyers for six months. Both decisions has been extended since then.