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PEN Int’l calls for immediate release of Turkish journalist arrested on propaganda charges

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Turkish authorities should immediately and unconditionally free prominent journalist, writer and PEN Turkey member Merdan Yanardağ and drop all charges against him, PEN International has said.

Yanardağ, the editor-in-chief of Turkish broadcaster TELE1, was arrested on June 27 over televised remarks regarding Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

PEN International in a statement on Thursday once again called on the authorities to stop using overbroad counterterrorism laws to silence writers and journalists who peacefully express their views.

“Once again, the Turkish authorities are using overbroad counter-terrorism laws to punish peaceful views. Journalists should be able to carry out their work freely, without fear of reprisal. We stand with PEN Türkiye member Merdan Yanardağ and call for his immediate and unconditional release. All charges against him must be dropped. said Ma Thida, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Yanardağ is facing charges of “praising crime and a criminal” as well as “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” based on his comments about Öcalan during a June 20 broadcast on TELE1. Yanardağ had said that Öcalan should have been released if the Law on the Execution of Punishments and Security Measures was abided by, and he criticized the legal basis for the “isolation” imposed on Öcalan.

The “isolation” of Öcalan, who has been jailed in a high-security prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara since 1999, refers to his inability to speak with his lawyers for years.

Yanardağ is currently being held in Silivri Prison, near İstanbul. A request for release pending trial was denied by the court on July 5 on the grounds that Yanardağ was considered a flight risk.

Shortly before his arrest Yanardağ said his words had been taken out of context and were not meant to praise Öcalan. On June 29, PEN Türkiye also issued a statement urging Yanardağ’s immediate release.

In addition, PEN America also joined PEN International on Thursday in calling on Turkish authorities to immediately release the jailed journalist.

“PEN America stands in solidarity with Merdan Yanardağ and calls on Turkish authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally. Journalists and writers should be free to work and express themselves without fear of retaliation. Airing an opinion critical of the government is not tantamount to terrorism, and the Turkish government must understand this and release Yanardağ,” said Justin Shilad, Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy lead at PEN America.

Yanardağ’s arrest has drawn international attention to ongoing concerns about freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey.

It is common for journalists in Turkey, which has a poor record on freedom of the press, to face threats, physical attacks and legal harassment due to their work.

Rights groups routinely accuse the Turkish government of trying to keep the press under control by imprisoning journalists, eliminating media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, 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.

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