One of 15 journalists who were arrested in southeastern Turkey in June 2022 and indicted on terrorism charges 10 months later is facing another indictment on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to news reports about his arrest, the Mezopotamya news agency (MA) reported on Tuesday.
MA reporter Ömer Çelik was among 15 journalists, including Serdar Altan, co-chair of the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG), MA Editor-in-Chief Aziz Oruç and JinNews News Director Safiye Alagaş, who were arrested after they had been held in custody for eight days between June 8 and 16 last year, in a move that sparked outrage among opposition politicians, members of the press and rights activists.
A total of 21 people, including 18 journalists, were detained in southeastern Diyarbakır province in June 2022. Fifteen of them, who have been in pretrial detention for over 13 months, appeared in court for the first hearing of their trial last month.
According to MA, Çelik now faces another indictment demanding a prison sentence of up to 15 years for him on charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to the news reports about this 2022 arrest.
Drafted by the İdil Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, the indictment was sent to the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office due to the lack of jurisdiction. The office accepted the indictment and requested that the case be merged with the trial of 22 individuals, 20 of them journalists, at Diyarbakır 4th High Criminal Court, MA said, adding that the request was approved by the court.
The İdil Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s indictment was based on a police report that noted that “no element that could be evaluated as a criminal offense” was found in Çelik’s social media posts but included four news reports published after his arrest that mentioned Çelik’s name.
The prosecutor said in the indictment that the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, “supported” Çelik and “undermined” the judicial procedures against him, on the grounds that pro-PKK media outlets published news reports about his arrest that criticized the judicial process.
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 after 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.