Turkish authorities should stop harassing journalists working for the Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) and immediately release reporter Dindar Karataş, who was arrested on November 24, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Turkish authorities must cease detaining journalists at the Mesopotamia News Agency, and let them work freely and safely,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator in New York. “Reporter Dindar Karataş and all other journalists recently arrested in Van should be released without delay, any confiscated equipment should be returned, and authorities should cease employing such tactics to harass and obstruct the press.”
Karataş was arrested in the eastern city of Van and was brought to the local office of MA, where the police searched the premises and confiscated Karataş’s laptop, three hard drives and personal letters sent to Karataş.
Karataş often covered news concerning politics and human rights. According to the CPJ, authorities stated that Karataş would not be allowed to see his lawyer for his first 24 hours in custody. Allegations against him have not yet been disclosed.
Many reporters for the pro-Kurdish MA have been arrested in the past for alleged membership in the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed secessionist group designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
The police had raided MA offices on October 6 and detained reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur. Although the reasons for the detentions were not revealed, news reports claim they were questioned while in detention about their journalistic work.
The two reporters had covered the story of two Kurdish villagers who were allegedly tortured and thrown from a military helicopter.
The journalists had revealed documents that confirmed the claims of torture of the two men by gendarmes, while Turkish media outlets did not report on the incident or the allegations. The documents included a hospital report stating that the reason for the villagers’ initial hospitalization was trauma consistent with a fall from a height.
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 Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2020 World Press Freedom Index in which Turkey was ranked 154th among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, Turkey is the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists. The Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has documented that 174 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 wanted and are either in exile or remain at large. The Turkish government has seized nearly 200 media outlets including the country’s largest since 2015.