CPJ: Turkey should cease filing bogus terrorism charges against the press

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in a news alert issued on August 31 called on Turkish authorities to “drop all charges against journalists Rawin Sterk and Selman Keleş, release Sterk from prison, and cease filing bogus terrorism charges against the press.”

“Journalists Rawin Sterk and Selman Keleş should never have faced trumped-up terrorism charges for their work, let alone have these charges hanging over them for months — and in Keleş’ case, years — thanks to Turkey’s slow and unjust legal system,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities must immediately release Sterk, who remains at high risk in prison amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and drop the charges against both journalists.”

Sterk was formerly a reporter at the Iraqi-Kurdish Rudow news outlet and was arrested and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” in February.

Keleş was previously a photojournalist with the now closed Dicle News Agency and was also arrested and charged with “membership in an armed terrorist organization” in 2017. He was released on bail on November 21, 2017 pending trial.

According to CPJ reports, Sterk was arrested with four other journalists in Turkey’s western city of Edirne on February 29. They were covering refugees moving through the country from Syria.

CPJ documented that Keleş was detained on March 20, 2017 after he photographed a municipal building in the eastern province of Van. He was freed on bail on November 21, 2017.

According to CPJ, Turkey is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists together with China, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In a December 2019 report CPJ said Turkey has “stamped out virtually all independent reporting.” According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” list, there are currently 179 journalists behind bars and 168 journalists are wanted by Turkish authorities.

Sterk’s trial will begin on September 2, and Keleş’ trial will begin on September 3. The journalists face up to 10 years in prison each. Both journalists are accused of membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union. Both journalists have denied the charges against them.

Following a coup attempt in July 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on dissidents under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. One hundred sixty-four media organizations were shut down, over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or a relationship with “terrorist organizations.”

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