Turkish court arrests 4 more journalists from pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi

A Turkish court on Wednesday ruled to arrest four journalists from the pro-Kurdish Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, which was seized by the Turkish government and to which a trustee has been appointed, over alleged membership in a terrorist organisation.

After giving depositions at the prosecutor’s office, Nedim Demirkıran and Mehmet Beyazıt were released on judicial probation, while five other Özgürlükçü Demokrasi journalists were referred to court with a demand for their arrest, according to a report by the pro-Kurdish Fırat news agency (ANF).

The court ruled for the arrest of Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Hicran Ürün and Pınar Tarlak for alleged membership in a terrorist organisation and placed them in pretrial detention, while it released Ramazan Sola on judicial probation.

The newspaper’s grant holder, İhsan Yaşar, and Managing Editor İshak Yasul were jailed four days ago for alleged membership in a terrorist organisation and spreading the propaganda of a terrorist organisation.

Also on Wednesday at least four people were detained during house raids, including journalist Ferhat Parlak, owner of the Silvan Mücadele newspaper, which provides online service in the Silvan district of Diyarbakır province after being shut down by the government. Also, 14 people including executives from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and pro-Kurdish Democratic Regions Party (DBP) were detained in Diyarabkır’s Bismil district.

Kurdish journalist Naif Yaşar was also detained by Turkish police during a house raid in Van province on Wednesday morning. Yaşar was reportedly taken to the counterterrorism unit of the provincial police department.

Moreover, the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court handed down prison sentences to three journalists affiliated with the pro-Kurdish Demokratik Ulus newspaper. The case was filed in 2015 against Demokratik Ulus on allegations of terrorist propaganda due to an article published in the paper.

The newspaper’s managing editor, Nuray Candan, its publisher Kemal Sancılı and former publisher Ziya Çiçekçi were given two years in prison each over alleged terrorist propaganda. The court later increased the sentences to three years, nine months for aggravated circumstances. Although the same sentences handed down by the same court had previously been overturned by an appeals court due to a lack of evidence and excessive sentencing, the local court ignored the verdict of the higher court.

An appeals court on Wednesday approved a sentence given to Eren Keskin, a human rights lawyer and the executive editor of the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper, which was shut down by government decree under an ongoing state of emergency.

A local court had sentenced Keskin to six months in prison for “openly insulting the institutions of the Republic of Turkey,” subsequently converting the sentence to a fine of TL 3,000 lira. The İstanbul 2nd Regional Court of Appeals issued a verdict approving the sentence.

There are reportedly 143 lawsuits against Keskin, who has received a total of TL 355,920 in fines to date, TL 104,920 of which have been approved. Some TL 250,000 in fines and a twelve-and-a-half year prison sentence are still pending at the Supreme Court of Appeals.

A prosecutor has also been seeking a three-year jail sentence for journalist Nurcan Baysal due to her tweets critical of an ongoing Turkish military operation in the Kurdish-controlled Afrin region of Syria, according to the Mesopotamia news agency.

Baysal, who writes for the T24 news portal, was detained on the night of Jan. 21 after police teams broke down the door of her house. The journalist was released pending trial by a court on Jan. 24. The investigation into Baysal has been completed and an indictment has been drafted by the Diyarbakır Chief Prosecutor’s Office. The journalist is accused of inciting the public to hatred and enmity.  The journalist’s trial will take place at the Diyarbakır 7th Penal Court of First Instance.

In one of her tweets, Baysal wrote: “Racist fascists touting war! I am against war, I am Kurdish, I am a Gypsy, I am a Jew, I am an Arab, I am LGBT, I am Armenian, I am Yazidi… In short, I am everything you hate. Do not follow me!”

The journalist has denied the charges and said she just shared her views about the operation as a journalist. Baysal said she is against the killing of children and war.

The Turkish military and Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch in Afrin against the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which Turkey sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have reacted strongly to people who oppose the operation, and prosecutor’s offices have initiated investigations into those who share social media messages critical of the operation.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 245 journalists and media workers were in jailas of April 4, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 188 were under arrest pending trial while only 57 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 140 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey. Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

Meanwhile, İzmir police detained 12 people on Tuesday for allegedly “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” and “preparing for a demonstration” on April 4, the birthday of Abdullah Öcalan, the jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Three more people were also taken into custody later on the same allegations. Referred to an İzmir court on Tuesday evening, 10 of the 15 were arrested while five were released on judicial probation.

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