Four journalists who covered the story of Kurdish villagers who were allegedly tortured and later thrown from a military helicopter were detained on Tuesday in the eastern province of Van, Turkish Minute reported.
Police conducted dawn raids on the homes of Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur from the Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) in addition to those of Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala from Jinnews.
MA announced that a former worker, newspaper distributor Şükran Erdem, was also detained as part of the ongoing investigation.
The journalists’ equipment and materials were reportedly seized by the police during the operation on the residences and the agency office. The journalists will reportedly not be able to speak to their lawyers for 24 hours in line with regulations.
The journalists recently reported serious allegations of torture perpetrated by Turkish security forces on two Kurdish villagers, Servet Turgut (55) and Osman Şiban (50). After allegedly being tortured and 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, while Turkish media outlets did not report on the incident or the allegations. The documents included a hospital report stating the reason for the villagers’ initial hospitalization as trauma consistent with a fall from a height.
Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) on Tuesday released a statement on Twitter about the journalists’ detention.
Mezopotamya Ajansı Van Bürosuna yapılan ve 4 gazetecinin gözaltına alındığı operasyonu kınıyoruz. Köylülerin helikopterden atılmasından Türkiye’yi haberdar eden MA Van Bürosunun hedef alınması yönetimin intikamcı yaklaşımıdır. Ne yaparsanız yapın suçlarınız karanlıkta kalmayacak. pic.twitter.com/aUNLkSE6i7
— HDP (@HDPgenelmerkezi) October 6, 2020
“We condemn the operation[s] on the Van office of the Mezopotamya Agency and on the 4 journalists who were detained. The [detentions] reflect the vengeful approach of [the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government] that targeted the MA Van bureau because it made Turkey aware of the incident in which villagers were thrown from a helicopter,” the HDP tweeted.
A statement by the Van Governor’s Office on September 21 claimed that Turgut fell from a rocky place and resisted arrest, but it didn’t mention Şiban’s injuries and accused the two of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed secessionist group listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the European Union and the United States. The prosecutor has imposed a secrecy order on the investigation file preventing the families’ lawyers from obtaining information.
The ETHA news agency reported on Thursday that a publication and broadcast ban was imposed on the news regarding the case.
In a public statement on September 25, Amnesty International said it was “deeply concerned at the serious allegations of torture and other ill-treatment and the shocking allegation that they were thrown from the helicopter.” The human rights watchdog urged the Turkish government to subject the allegations to “a prompt, independent and impartial investigation” and to bring those suspected to have carried out the alleged torture or other ill-treatment to justice in fair trials.
In a press statement on October 1, Human Rights Watch underlined that in recent years there have been other instances of security forces arresting and ill-treating civilians after military casualties sustained in clashes between the military and the PKK in the country’s Southeast.
“Turkey has an entrenched culture of impunity when it comes to abuses by the security forces, no matter how serious,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “A failure to effectively investigate this latest case, as in so many other cases of serious abuse, would not just deny justice to the two men and their families, but give a green light to Turkey’s security forces to keep on abusing.”
Many reporters for the pro-Kurdish MA have been arrested in the past for suspected membership in the outlawed PKK.
Journalist Cemil Uğur was also detained on August 23, 2016 on terror charges while covering the “Freedom Watch” held in front of Mersin Prison in solidarity with imprisoned writers. Uğur was subjected to ill-treatment, insults and death threats, he told PEN International, a worldwide writers association with 145 centers in more than 100 countries, at the time.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 172 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.
According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey is “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”