International groups demand the release of Kurdish journalists, lawyers, and political party officials arrested in a pre-election crackdown in Turkey.
Absent any credible evidence of wrongdoing, Turkey should release dozens of Kurdish journalists, political party officials, and lawyers arrested in raids on April 25, 2023, in advance of the May 14 national elections, 18 organizations including Human Rights Watch said today. The following is their statement:
Media freedom, freedom of expression, and human rights organisations call on Turkish authorities to stop the systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish journalists, media workers, media outlets, the lawyers that defend them, and Kurdish political party officials, give them access to legal counsel, disclose full details of charges brought and to ensure that they are released from detention. We reiterate the need for a free and pluralistic media atmosphere in the run up to the elections that will be held on 14 May 2023.
On 25 April, coordinated dawn raids in Turkey targeted homes and offices of 128 people including journalists, lawyers, rights defenders, political activists and artists in 20 provinces, based on unclear charges. The state-run Anadolu Agency reported that the Diyarbakır-based operation is related to anti-terror investigations led by Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. It was also reported that arrest warrants were issued against 216 people in total.
Among those that have been detained so far are 10 journalists and a lawyer who represents arrested journalists. Technical equipment, computers, books and documents belonging to journalists were also confiscated by the police during the raids.
The detained journalists so far include Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) editor Abdurrahman Gök and reporters Ahmet Kanbal and Mehmet Şah Oruç; editor-in-chief of Yeni Yaşam daily newspaper Osman Akın; the publisher of the only Kurdish print newspaper in Turkey, Xwebûn Weekly, Kadri Esen; JinNews reporter Beritan Canözer; and journalists Mehmet Yalçın, Mikail Barut, Salih Keleş and Remzi Akkaya.
Lawyer Resul Temur, who represented imprisoned journalists in Diyarbakır and Ankara after similar raids in June and October 2022 respectively, was also detained in the raids.
The Diyarbakır Bar Association announced that the charges against the detained people are still unknown due to a confidentiality order covering the investigation and a 24-hour restriction on access to lawyers for those detained.
The raids are taking place in the run up to the parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey which will be held on 14 May 2023, and represent another step in the systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish media and political opposition in the country.
Previously, in June 2022, a similar raid resulted in 20 journalists in Diyarbakır being initially detained of whom 16 were placed in pre-trial detention on terrorism charges pending a trial that begins on 11 July, 2023. In October 2022, a further 11 Kurdish journalists were detained on terrorism charges in the provinces of Ankara, İstanbul, Van, Diyarbakır, Şanlıurfa, Mersin and Mardin in simultaneous house raids as part of an anti-terror investigation led by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. Their trial begins on 16 May, 2023.
Turkey has a long history of bringing criminal charges, including for terrorism offences, against independent journalists solely because of their journalistic work. The Mapping Media Freedom database records 27 alerts impacting 91 Kurdish journalists, media workers or outlets over the last 12 months. The alerts primarily consist of legal incidents usually leading to arrest, detention, imprisonment, prosecution and convictions.
We call on the authorities to immediately give the detained journalists, lawyers and political activists access to legal counsel and to disclose full details of any charges brought. Absent any credible evidence of wrongdoing, they should be released immediately from detention.”