Prosecutor demands additional prison sentence for jailed journalist in new indictment 

Journalist Merdan Yanardağ

An Istanbul prosecutor in a new indictment has demanded another prison sentence for Merdan Yanardağ, the editor-in-chief of Turkish broadcaster TELE1, who was arrested in June for remarks on air about a terrorist leader, the Birgün daily reported.

Yanardağ appeared on Tuesday before the Istanbul 2nd Criminal Court of First Instance on charges of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in seven opinion pieces titled “Fascism and Islamist fascism” and published by Birgün between April 10 and May 29.

The prosecutor demanded a prison sentence ranging from one and a half to eight years, according to Birgün. The next hearing will be held on November 14.

Yanardağ was arrested on June 27 over televised remarks regarding Abdullah Öcalan, the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). He is currently held in Silivri Prison, near İstanbul.

The journalist has been charged with “praising crime and a criminal” as well as “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.” The İstanbul 30th High Criminal Court earlier accepted an indictment against the journalist that seeks a prison sentence ranging from one and a half to 10 and a half years.

Yanardağ is being tried due to his comments about Öcalan during a June 20 broadcast on TELE1. He had said 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. Shortly before his arrest Yanardağ said his words had been taken out of context and were not meant to praise 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.

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 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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