Sixteen Kurdish journalists who have been in pre-trial detention since June 2022 on terrorism-related charges have filed an application with the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Voice of America’s (VOA) Turkish Service reported on Wednesday.
The journalists’ application stated that their extended period of pre-trial detention violated the presumption of innocence as well as their right to a fair trial.
Their lawyer Resul Temur said the time spent in detention has turned into a form of “punishment that goes beyond precautionary measures” for the journalists.
“Due to the failure to reach a timely conclusion regarding the journalists’ arrest in our application to the Constitutional Court, we applied to the European Court of Human Rights in April,” he said.
A total of 21 people, the vast majority of whom are Kurdish journalists detained in southeastern Diyarbakır province in June 2022, were indicted on terrorism charges 10 months after their detention.
Sixteen of the 21 detainees, including Serdar Altan, co-chair of the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), Mezopotamya news agency (MA) Editor-in-Chief Aziz Oruç and JinNews News Director Safiye Alagaş, were arrested by a court on June 16, 2022, after they had been held in custody for eight days, in a move that sparked outrage among opposition politicians, members of the press and rights activists.
The Kurdish journalists, who had been detained as part of an operation overseen by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, were arrested on charges of membership in a terrorist organization.
The first hearing in the trial will be held at the Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court on July 11.
Altan, who made a statement through his lawyer on the anniversary of the operation targeting them, said the pressure on journalists in Turkey had increased in the past year and made a call for solidarity in the upcoming trial.
“Now, when we look back at the past year, we can clearly see that we are faced with an operation to silence journalists … We also know that just as they couldn’t succeed in the past, they won’t be able to silence us today,” Altan said.
Five months after the operation in Diyarbakır, police in October detained 11 Kurdish journalists in İstanbul and Ankara as well as other cities including Diyarbakır as part of an investigation conducted by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Seven of the journalists work for MA, including its editor-in-chief Diren Yurtsever, and three for JinNews.
The first hearing in the trial of the 11 journalists was held at the Ankara 4th High Criminal Court in mid-May. The journalists face sentences of between seven and a half and 15 years on charges of membership in the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Kurdish journalists in Turkey frequently face legal harassment, stand trial and are given jail sentences for covering issues related to Kurds and the PKK, which has been waging a bloody campaign in Turkey’s southeast since 1984 and is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
Rights groups routinely accuse Turkey of undermining media freedom by arresting journalists and shutting down critical media outlets, especially since President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.
Turkey is ranked 165th in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2023 World Press Freedom Index, among 180 countries, not far from North Korea, which occupies the bottom of the list.