4 journalists arrested for reporting on Kurdish villagers thrown from military helicopter

Four journalists who reported on two Kurdish villagers who had allegedly been thrown out of a military helicopter were arrested on Friday, Turkish media reported.

Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur from the Mesopotamia News Agency and Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala from Jinnews were arrested in the eastern city of Van. They were accused of membership in a terrorist organization.

The journalists had recently reported on allegations of torture perpetrated by Turkish security forces on two Kurdish villagers, Servet Turgut (55) and Osman Şiban (50). After being tortured the two were allegedly thrown from a military helicopter. Turgut succumbed to his injuries on September 30, while Şiban was discharged from the hospital but reportedly still suffers from partial memory loss.

The journalists had revealed documents that confirmed the claims of torture and the two men having been thrown from a helicopter. The documents included a hospital report stating the reason for the villagers’ initial hospitalization as trauma consistent with a fall from a height. The mainstream Turkish media outlets did not report on the incident or the allegations.

The journalists’ equipment and materials were reportedly seized by the police during the operation on their residences and the agency office. They were questioned about telephone correspondence with their news sources, although a court had previously decided that there was no need for prosecution concerning the correspondence.

The Van Governor’s Office imposed a media blackout on October 1 concerning news on Turgut and Şiban. Bilen was charged with violating the blackout based on his earlier reports.

The lawyers for the journalists claimed they were mistreated upon arrival at the prison. The two female journalists, Abi and Sala, were placed in a cell in the male inmates’ bloc.

The journalists’ told their lawyers that their cell was covered with bird feces and they were not given food on their first night or the morning after. They also claimed that their sweaters were taken from them because the color did not comply with prison regulations and that they were left in T-shirts in the cold cell. According to the lawyers, their clients were also not given any products for personal hygiene.

Representatives of the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association based in southeastern Turkey said the arrest of the four journalists was unacceptable. “The government has once again targeted journalists who have uncovered a major violation of human rights. We demand that our colleagues be released from prison because journalism is not a crime!” they said.

Turkey was ranked 154th of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters without Borders (RSF). In May, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir called on the Turkish authorities to urgently address and reverse current media freedom violations and the pressure journalists face.

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 176 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.

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