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Top court says interim closure of pro-Kurdish daily violated constitutional freedoms

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Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that the interim closure of Özgür Gündem, a now-defunct newspaper that had focused on Kurdish issues, violated the constitutional rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

On Aug. 16, 2016 the İstanbul 8th Criminal Court of Peace temporarily shuttered the Özgür Gündem newspaper for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), for spreading “terrorist propaganda” on its behalf and for waging a war against the state. Although the court ruling said it was an “interim closure,” the exact date of reopening was not indicated.

The daily, which was known for its pro-Kurdish editorial line, was eventually shut down on Oct. 29, 2016 by an emergency decree-law adopted by the government in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016.

The top court said the daily’s interim closure violated Articles 26 and 28 of the Turkish Constitution on the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of the press. Details of the court ruling will be released to the public in the coming days, Mezopotamya said.

A number of the now-defunct newspaper’s journalists, including its co-editors-in-chief, lawyer and human rights activist Eren Keskin and Zana Bilir Kaya, have been charged with a range of crimes including disseminating propaganda for the PKK.

The Turkish government increased its crackdown on critical media outlets and journalists in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016 following which dozens of journalists were jailed while more than 200 media outlets were closed down under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently made it onto a list of “press freedom predators” published by Reporters without Borders (RSF) that includes 37 heads of state or government who crack down substantially on press freedom, for the second time since 2016.

Turkey was ranked 153rd among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in April.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 173 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

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