A Turkish court has ruled for the release pending trial of 15 Kurdish journalists who had been held in pretrial detention for 13 months, the Expression Interrupted platform announced.
BREAKING: A Diyarbakır court just ordered the release of 15 journalists, who have been in pre-trial detention on charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” since June 2022, at the end of a two-day hearing. #JournalismIsNotACrime pic.twitter.com/IcuZGSI7wS
— Expression Interrupted (@ExInt24) July 12, 2023
The Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court in southeastern Turkey ordered the release of the journalists at the second hearing of their trial on Wednesday while also imposing a travel ban on them.
Eighteen Kurdish journalists, 15 of whom had been in pretrial detention since June 2022 on terrorism-related charges, appeared in court for their first hearing on Tuesday. They had been detained in an operation in Diyarbakır in June 2022. Fifteen of them were subsequently arrested.
The journalists’ trial was closely followed by local and international press organizations and rights activists, who called their detention unlawful and unjust.
During the hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday, the journalists, who delivered their defense statements, said they were being punished for their journalistic activities and denied the charges of terrorism.
They said their use of the Kurdish language in their reports and broadcasts and their efforts to bring the country’s Kurdish issue into the spotlight are shown as criminal evidence against them in the indictment.
The Kurdish issue, a term prevalent in Turkey’s public discourse, refers to the demand for equal rights by the country’s Kurdish population and their struggle for recognition.
They said although the indictment accuses them of membership in a terrorist organization, there is no evidence supporting the charge.
The arrested journalists included 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.
The news about the release of the journalists from pretrial detention was applauded by colleagues and family members.
Journalist Amberin Zaman tweeted, “Fantastic news. 15 unjustly jailed journalists in Diyarbakir freed!”
Fantastic news. 15 unjustly jailed journalists in Diyarbakir freed! https://t.co/bY7099bwZW
— Amberin Zaman (@amberinzaman) July 12, 2023
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, who was in Diyarbakır to monitor the trial, said the release of the journalists from pretrial detention after 13 months can only be a development that offers consolation. He said what the court should have done was to not send the journalists to prison in first place because pretrial detention should only take place in rare situations and should not be a widely used measure.
The journalists are charged with membership in a terrorist organization, a charge frequently faced by Kurdish journalists in Turkey due to their reports about Kurds’ problems and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
A prison sentence of up to 15 years is sought for the journalists.
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.