Former editor of Bianet’s Kurdish section, Yunus Önal, has been sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison in a court case he is charged with “illegal group membership” for dancing “halay” and attending some events.
According to a news report in bianet.org, the prosecutor’s indictment has based on his dancing halay with the song “Oremar”, attending a press conference on education in mother tongue, and a witness’ statement. Bitlis 2nd Heavy Penal Court accepted the indictment and opened the case on the TCK 314/2 over “being a member of an [illegal] organization”.
“What I did was journalism. I worked in Kurdish, which has been banned for decades and is despised by the state. I voiced my most humanly demands in a democratic way within the framework of the freedom of expression. I told these in my plea as well. However, it is impossible to expect a trial complying with universal legal norms from the rationale of a government which has burned down the Kurdish cities since 2015, sent hundreds of journalists and the deputies elected by millions of people to prisons, closed down a large number of media outlets. Because in this conjuncture, even mentioning the word ‘Kurdish’ is sufficient to be targeted by the government,” said journalist Önal in an interview he gave to bianet.org.
Journalist Önal’s lawyer Mimar Önal has objected against the court decision at Erzurum Regional Court of Appeal.
An investigation was launched concerning the case as Yunus Önal was working as Kurdish editor for Sputnik. Önal was blocked by police officers as he was heading home and was taken into custody on March 18, 2016. Remaining in custody for two days, Önal was released following the prosecutor’s office’s questioning. Sputnik sacked Önal after his detention was covered in the media.
As of April 1, 2017, Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF), a Stockholm-based monitoring and rights advocacy group, has confirmed that 228 journalists and media workers are behind bars in Turkey, a new world record by any measure. Of these journalists, 194 are arrested pending trial and without a conviction. 13 jailed journalists have been re-detained just after they were released by an İstanbul court on March 31, 2017. Most of the journalists do not even know what the charges are or what evidence, if any, the government has because the indictments were not filed yet.
The Turkish government is apparently using arbitrary arrests as part of intimidation campaign to suppress critical coverage, muzzle independent media and silence journalists. Only 21 journalists who are in jail were convicted while the rest are in abusive and long pre-trial detentions. Moreover, sweeping detention warrants have been issued for at least 100 journalists who are forced to live in exile abroad or remain at large in Turkey.
April 10, 2017