Journalists fined for entering Akbelen Forest while covering protest of villagers

Turkish gendarmerie on July 26 forcibly evacuated Akbelen Forest after villagers and activists prevented company shuttles from coming to the area to cut down trees. One was detained, and two journalists were fined for “trespassing.”

88-year old Zehra is among one of the prominent figures in protests.

Cihan Başakcıoğlu / Gazete Duvar 

The resistance of villagers against the felling of Akbelen Forest for the expansion of the coal mining site in Muğla province’s İkizköy district continues. Early in the morning, the villagers and activists entered the cutting area to see the destruction in the forest after the continuing attacks against them since July 24. 

After observing the destruction in the forest, the villagers blocked the shuttles carrying workers to the area to cut down trees. They started a sit-in protest, stating that the felling was carried out not by the General Directorate of Forestry but by the Limak Holding that owns the mining site. The shuttles withdrew before they could drop workers in the area.

Gendarmerie commando teams were then dispatched to the area, and they attacked the villagers and environmentalists. Villagers who hugged the trees to prevent the cutting were forcibly removed from the area by the gendarmerie. 

Gendarmerie also surrounded activists and journalists who were present at the scene including Gazete Duvar reporter Cihan Başakçıoğlu and Zeynep Kuray. Turkish authorities fined them for “entering a forbidden area.”

Deniz Gümüşel from the İkizköy Environment Committee was also detained after being held in a gendarmerie car for a long time.

Muğla province’s Bodrum district Mayor Ahmet Aras also wanted to go to Akbelen Forest to support the villagers. He on July 26 shared that the police stopped their convoy at the exit of Bodrum and conducted identity checks.

Green Left Party (YSP) Co-Spokesperson İbrahim Akın, party's MP Perihan Koca and the accompanying delegation also visited the villagers in Akbelen to support them in their struggle.

The YSP delegation wanted to enter and inspect the area where the trees were cut down, but they were met with a gendarmerie barricade. The gendarmerie attacked the group including elderly people and children with pepper spray, batons and water cannons. The gendarmes first punched a villager and then attacked him together.

While Turkey is struggling with forest fires in many regions, the gendarmerie fired gas shells in a wooded area which is a fire zone.

After the attack, main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) Muğla MPs and the accompanying delegation also came to the area and wanted to enter the place where the trees were cut. After a meeting with the gendarmerie, MPs were not allowed to enter the forest as well.

The YSP delegation reacted to the situation and started a sit-in protest in front of the gendarmerie barricade.

The gendarmerie prevented journalist Kazım Kızıl from filming and sprayed pepper spray into his eyes at close range.

After the sit-in protest, the gendarmerie attacked the crowd with tear gas for the second time and detained the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) İzmir provincial and Marmaris district co-chairs.

They once again sprayed pepper spray in the faces of the villagers from close range and fired gas cartridges in the forested area.

Since 2019, the 740-decare Akbelen Forest and the İkizköylü village have been threatened by plans to extend coal mines. In 2021, the locals filed a lawsuit against the company YK Energy, a joint affiliate of IC Holding and Limak Holding, which is known to have close ties with the Turkish government, for the annulment of the project.

During the judiciary process, courts have several times ruled for the suspension of the coal mine project, but the company rejected to abide by these court rulings.

(English version by Can Bodrumlu)