PEN International, a worldwide association of writers, has called on Turkish authorities to immediately release 15 journalists and one media worker held in pretrial detention in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, Turkish Minute reported.
“Turkey must stop using anti-terrorism and other laws to target independent journalists and uphold the right to freedom of expression, which includes the right to give and receive information,” PEN International said in a statement it released on Thursday.
On June 8 2022, 20 journalists and one media worker were detained following raids on their homes in Diyarbakır as part of two criminal investigations conducted by the Diyarbakır Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The offices of Jin News, Pel Production, Piya Production and Ari Production were also raided, with police officers confiscating cameras, computers, news equipment and documents. Although a gag order was imposed on the investigations, pro-government outlets reported that the raids were part of a counterterrorism operation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) “Press Committee.”
Most of the journalists detained work for pro-Kurdish media outlets. Kurdish journalists frequently face terrorism charges in Turkey due to their alleged affiliation with the PKK, listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the EU and the US.
On June 16 the detainees were questioned about their journalistic activities and social media posts. One day later, the court ordered the arrest of 16 of them on “strong suspicion of membership of a terrorist organization.” The others were released on judicial supervision and placed under a travel ban. They must also report to the police station twice a month.
“PEN International strongly condemns the arrests of 15 journalists and one media worker in Diyarbakır, which appear to be part of a systematic effort to silence independent media in Turkey and have a chilling effect on free speech. We fear the journalists are being punished for doing their job. They must be released from pre-trial detention immediately,” said Ma Thida, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
PEN International has repeatedly condemned the Turkish authorities’ use of counterterrorism and other laws to target dissenting voices. The raids on June 8 were among the biggest operations conducted against journalists in the predominantly Kurdish southeast of Turkey in recent years.
Kurdish culture and language remain harshly repressed in Turkey, with most pro-Kurdish and Kurdish language media outlets closed down, and several journalists from Kurdish or pro-Kurdish outlets in prison on trumped-up terrorism charges.
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, closing media outlets, overseeing the purchase of media brands by pro-government conglomerates and using regulatory authorities to exert financial pressure, especially after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan survived a failed coup in July 2016.
Turkey, which is among the top jailers of journalists in the world, was ranked 149th among 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2022 World Press Freedom Index, released in early May.