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Journalists released after long detention claim they were punished for their Kurdish identity

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Two of 15 Kurdish journalists who had been held in pretrial detention for 13 months before being released earlier this week have told the Artı Gerçek news website that they are being punished for their ethnic identity and for covering news about Kurds in Turkey.

Eighteen Kurdish journalists, 15 of whom had been in pretrial detention since June 2022 on terrorism-related charges, appeared in court for their second hearing on Wednesday. They had been detained in an operation in Diyarbakır in June 2022. Fifteen of them were subsequently arrested.

The Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court in southeastern Turkey ordered the release of the journalists on Wednesday while also imposing a travel ban on them.

Two of the newly released journalists, Elif Güngür and Remziye Temel, spoke to Artı Gerçek on Friday, making a call for solidarity and resistance against the state oppression faced by Kurds in Turkey.

Üngür emphasized that the court’s decision to release them was not a “favor” but rather their “right,” adding, “They [the authorities] need to be held accountable for all the time they took from us.”

Despite working for only six months before her detention, Üngür said she was subjected to various forms of harassment, threats and punishment. She said reporting on Kurds is considered a crime in today’s Turkey and that they are being punished for being Kurdish.

“Yes, they can arrest us, but journalism and the Kurdish press will always continue. They existed before us and they will exist after us,” she said.

Temel also said Turkish prisons are filled with journalists and that arrests are still ongoing.

“Likewise, we must continue to struggle in solidarity, joining forces to secure the freedom of all our colleagues,” she said.

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.

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