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Top court finds rights violation in arrest of journalist who reported attack on Kurdish villagers

Journalist Cemil Uğur

Turkey’s Constitutional Court has ruled that a journalist who was arrested on terrorism charges for reporting on an incident in which two Kurdish villagers were allegedly thrown from a military helicopter and tortured in southeastern Turkey in 2020 was subjected to rights violations, the Mezopotamya news agency reported.

The court ruled Mezopotamya reporter Cemil Uğur’s rights to personal liberty and security were violated because he was merely doing his job as a journalist and that there was no concrete evidence to substantiate the claims in his indictment.

Uğur was one of five journalists, along with Mezopotamya reporters Adnan Bilen and Zeynep Durgut, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala, who were indicted on charges of membership in a terrorist organization for reporting on the 2020 incident.

The journalists, all of whom other than Durgut were arrested in October 2020, faced charges of membership in a terrorist organization, namely the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.

The incident that led to the prosecution of the journalists concerned their reports on Kurdish villagers Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut, who were detained by gendarmes while working on their farm in September 2020 and were allegedly pushed out of a military helicopter. Initial reporting on the incident by rights groups and media outlets cited a medical report giving the reason for their admission to the hospital as a “fall from a helicopter.”

Yet, research by opposition deputy and investigative journalist Ahmet Şık revealed in November 2020 that the villagers were in fact assaulted by a mob of more than 100 soldiers.

The top court ruled that two people being thrown from a helicopter was news and that there was no evidence proving Uğur’s membership in a terrorist organization or that he wrote his stories based on orders from the PKK.

The Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), an NGO working in the fields of free speech, journalism and Internet freedoms, petitioned the court on behalf of Uğur, claiming that he was unlawfully arrested and subjected to rights violations.

The court also ruled that the Turkish government pay damages to Uğur.

All five journalists were acquitted of the terrorist organization membership charges by the Van 5th High Criminal Court last month.

The top court’s ruling is expected to help journalists in Turkey avoid jail prison sentences for simply doing their jobs.

Following a coup attempt in July 2016 that claimed the lives of more than 250 civilians, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government intensified its crackdown on media outlets and journalists critical of it under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.

Journalists working for pro-Kurdish media outlets frequently face judicial harassment in Turkey and are prosecuted on charges of terrorist propaganda or terrorist organization membership in the PKK, which has been waging a bloody war in the country’s Southeast since 1984.

Turkey, which has dropped precipitously since it was ranked 100th among 139 countries when Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its first worldwide index in 2002, the year the AKP government came to power, was ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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