Veteran Turkish journalist Hasan Cemal sentenced over documenting PKK withdrawal

Veteran journalist Hasan Cemal (c) has frequently appeared before Turkish courts in recent years.

Veteran Turkish journalist Hasan Cemal has been given a suspended sentence of three months, 22 days by an appeals court for a series of articles documenting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) withdrawal from Turkey as part of an agreement with the government, according to a report by the Cumhuriyet daily on Tuesday.

Online news outlet Ahval reported that Cemal, whose articles were published under the heading “Withdrawal Diary” on independent news website T24 in 2013, had faced up to 13 years under Turkish terror and criminal laws in a case opened against him four years later.

“As a journalist, what I wrote at that time was how the road to the mountains [for PKK militants] opened up, in the search for an answer to the question of how it would not be closed. This was all journalism,” Cemal told the court at an earlier hearing.

“To bring about a prison case today for what I wrote in 2013 is to punish journalism. I defend peace rather than war, terror and violence. I will continue defending peace. I ask that I be found innocent.”

In November 2017, Cemal had also been given a suspended sentence of 15 months for “propaganda for an armed terrorist organisation” and a TL 6,000 ($1,500) fine for “publishing a terror organisation statement” in his other columns.

Çağdaş Kaplan

Meanwhile, prosecutors have demanded up to 15-year sentence for journalist Çağdaş Kaplan for his exposé of discrimination of Kurdish students at a Turkish university, Evrensel daily reported on Tuesday.

Kaplan worked as a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Dicle news agency (DİHA) in 2010 while studying at Sakarya University in western Turkey. His piece on institutional discrimination and racist attacks suffered by Kurdish students at the university brought him to the attention of the police, who detained him for four days and brought charges against him.

Kaplan, now an editor for the online news outlet Gazete Karınca, was at court for the trial’s final hearing last month, when the prosecutor demanded up to 15-year prison sentences for charges related to using media channels to instigate unrest on the behalf of a terrorist organisation, and membership of a terrorist organisation, likely referring to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

“The judges’ panel has changed a number of times since the trial began, but the same punishment always remains,” said Kaplan about the prosecutor’s demand, noting that the long sentence had been sought despite a flimsy charge sheet “without as much as a 3-line section” of evidence about the journalist.

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 jail as of March 26, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 189 were under arrest pending trial while only 56 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.

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