Indictment seeks up to 10-year sentence for jailed journalist

An indictment drafted by İstanbul prosecutors seeks a prison sentence of up to 10-and-a-half years for a journalist who was arrested last month for his remarks on air about a terrorist leader, Turkish Minute reported, citing the T24 news website.

Merdan Yanardağ, the editor-in-chief of Turkish broadcaster TELE1, was arrested on June 27 over televised remarks regarding Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The journalist is facing charges of “praising crime and a criminal” as well as “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization,” which require a sentence ranging from one year, six months to 10 years, six months.

The indictment was sent to the İstanbul 30th High Criminal Court. T24 reported that the court rejected the indictment on Tuesday with no reason given.

Yanardağ is facing the jail sentence based on his comments about Öcalan during a June 20 broadcast on TELE1. He had said that Öcalan should have been released if the Law on the Execution of Punishments and Security Measures was abided by, and he criticized the legal basis for the “isolation” imposed on Öcalan.

The “isolation” of Öcalan, who has been jailed in a high-security prison on İmralı Island in the Sea of Marmara since 1999, refers to his inability to speak with his lawyers for years.

In the indictment, prosecutors said Yanardağ’s remarks were similar to those made by a PKK executive, Duran Kalkan, who also spoke against the “isolation” imposed on the PKK leader.

Allegedly doctored videos targeting Yanardağ and portraying him as praising the PKK leader also made their way into the indictment.

Those videos were shared on social media by pro-government and nationalist trolls who are said to have played a role in the launch of the investigation into the journalist.

Yanardağ is currently being held in Silivri Prison, near İstanbul. A request for release pending trial was denied by the court on July 5 on the grounds that Yanardağ was considered a flight risk.

Shortly before his arrest Yanardağ said his words had been taken out of context and were not meant to praise Öcalan.

Yanardağ’s arrest has drawn international attention to ongoing concerns about freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Turkey.

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 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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