Turkey arrests journalist for remarks on jailed PKK leader

A Turkish court on Tuesday ruled to arrest a journalist on charges of disseminating terrorism propaganda due to his televised remarks about Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Turkish Minute reported, citing the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Journalist Merdan Yanardağ, editor-in-chief of the Tele 1 TV station, who was detained on Monday as part of an investigation launched into him by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office for his statements regarding Öcalan’s “isolation” during a program on Tele 1 over the weekend, was sent to jail on Tuesday.

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.

“The isolation imposed on Abdullah Öcalan has no place in the law. It should be lifted. He is unable to even meet with his family [members] and lawyer. … Öcalan is an extremely intelligent person who reads a lot of books and correctly understands … politics,” Yanardağ had said.

The investigation was launched after Mehmet Ali Çelebi, a lawmaker from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), pointed to Yanardağ as a target by sharing a video on social media that was a compilation of what the journalist said in the program.

Yanardağ was taken into custody by the counterterrorism police at the Tele 1 headquarters in Istanbul on charges of “praising crime and criminals” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”

Yanardağ said his remarks were taken out of context and that he was actually criticizing the likelihood of a new settlement process the AKP government was considering to launch with the PKK.

The settlement process, which refers to talks between the AKP government and the leadership of the PKK to resolve the Kurdish issue, began in 2012 and ended after two police officers were executed in southeastern Şanlıurfa province in June 2015.

Press organizations and some rights groups in Turkey have criticized the investigation of Yanardağ due to his remarks, saying they fall within the limits of the freedom of expression.

Turkey’s Human Rights Association (İHD) said according to universal law, it is not a crime to criticize the “isolation” imposed on Öcalan by the Turkish authorities. The İHD also called for an immediate end to the investigation of the journalist and his detention.

Öcalan, who was given a life sentence for treason after Turkey removed the death penalty, has been barred from meeting with his legal representatives since 2011 with one exception and has had only limited family visits since the collapse of the settlement process in 2015.

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 Recep Tayyip 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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