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Int’l rights groups call for release of detained Kurdish journalists, political activists in Turkey

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International media freedom and human rights organizations have called on Turkish authorities to stop their “systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish journalists, media workers, and political party officials,” urging the release of people detained in coordinated raids on Tuesday.

The statement was coordinated by Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), a Europe-wide mechanism that tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU member states and candidate countries. Signatories include the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), PEN International and the Coalition For Women In Journalism (CFWIJ).

The groups are calling on Turkish authorities to give detained journalists, lawyers and political activists access to legal counsel, disclose full details of any charges brought and ensure their immediate release from detention.

Coordinated dawn raids targeted homes and offices of 126 people in 21 provinces, including journalists, lawyers, rights defenders, political activists and artists. The state-run Anadolu news agency reported that the operation is related to counterterrorism investigations led by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.

The journalists detained so far include Mezopotamya News Agency editor Abdurrahman Gök and reporters Ahmet Kanbal and Mehmet Şah Oruç; editor-in-chief of the Yeni Yaşam daily newspaper Osman Akın; and Kadri Esen, publisher of ​​the Xwebûn weekly, the only Kurdish print newspaper in Turkey. Among the detainees is also lawyer Resul Temur, who represented imprisoned journalists in Diyarbakır and Ankara after similar raids in June and October 2022, respectively.

The charges against those in custody are still unknown due to a gag order on the investigation and a 24-hour restriction on access to lawyers for the detainees, according to the Diyarbakır Bar Association.

State media TRT reported that police had detained people suspected of financing the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or attracting new members to the group.

Deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, the PKK has been waging a decades-long war against the state for greater autonomy for the Kurdish minority.

The operation also involved people who transferred money to the PKK from municipalities held by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), according to TRT.

The HDP — the second-largest opposition party in parliament — is widely seen as a kingmaker in the tight race.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has often accused the HDP of alleged links to the PKK, which the party denies.

The HDP said last month it would not field a presidential candidate in the May 14 elections, giving tacit support to Erdoğan’s main rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

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