Journalist faces investigation for reporting on dismissed pilot’s death

Sevinç Özarslan, a Turkish journalist living in exile, is under investigation by prosecutors in Kayseri following her report on the death of Yahya Tarih, a former combat pilot who was fired under an emergency decree for alleged links to the faith-based Gülen movement.

A reporter for the Kronos news website, Özarslan revealed the investigation on X on Tuesday. “The Kayseri Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office launched an investigation into me for writing the story of Yahya Tarih, an F-16 pilot dismissed from the service by a decree-law who died in a tractor accident, because they don’t want it to be known that an F-16 pilot ended up operating a tractor in a village,” she tweeted.

Tarih, 36, died in a tractor accident in central Turkey’s Kayseri province in 2023. He was crushed by the tractor, which he was using while working the fields. Tarih was transporting wheat at the time of the accident.

Tarih was dismissed in 2020 in the context of the so-called payphone investigations. The investigations are based on call records. The prosecutors assume that a member of the Gülen movement used the same payphone to call all his contacts consecutively. Based on that assumption, when an alleged member of the movement is found in call records, it is assumed that the other numbers called right before or after that call also belong to people with Gülen links.

The Turkish government accuses the movement of masterminding a coup attempt on July 15, 2016 and labels it a “terrorist organization,” although the movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.

Tarih was arrested shortly after his dismissal and sent to Ankara’s Sincan Prison. He was sentenced to over six years in prison and released pending a decision from the Supreme Court of Appeals.

Following the coup attempt in 2016, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and carried out a massive purge of state institutions under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. More than 130,000 public servants, including 4,156 judges and prosecutors, as well as 24, 706 members of the armed forces were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations” by emergency decree-laws subject to neither judicial nor parliamentary scrutiny.

The government has not officially announced how many pilots it has purged from the air force in the aftermath of the failed putsch, but the figures reported in the Turkish media range from 600 to 716.

Özarslan, currently living in exile in Germany, faces potential imprisonment if found guilty. She remains defiant, stating her commitment to exposing injustice despite the investigation. “No matter what you do. I will continue to publicize injustice,” she reiterated on X.

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 the failed coup in 2016.

Turkey, which has been suffering from a poor record of freedom of the press for years, is ranked 158th among 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index published on May 3 on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

Take a second to support Stockholm Center for Freedom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!