Turkey: “For the Government, Journalism is Terrorism”

Turkey: “For the Government, Journalism is Terrorism”
By Ricardo Gutiérrez, EFJ General Secretary

This is the account of EFJ Observer Ricardo Gutiérrez, who attended the 6th hearing of the KCK "Press Wing" trial in Istanbul, Turkey, on 25 September:

Zeynep Kuray smiles, but she is angry. Sitting on the steps of the new courthouse built just outside of the Silivri prison complex, Zeynep Kuray is one of the 44 journalists who appeared on Tuesday before the High Criminal Court in the context of proceedings against the alleged "press wing" of the Group of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), an organization allegedly affiliated with the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been leading an armed struggle against the government since 1984.

The sixth hearing of the KCK "Press Wing" trial took place from 25-27 September. The General Secretary of the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Ricardo Gutiérrez, followed the debates, alongside other observers: MEPs Jaroslaw Walesa and Sajjad H. Karim and journalist Erol Önderoglu of Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Zeynep Kuray is an investigative journalist who worked for the left-wing daily BirGun and as a correspondent for Firat News Agency. She was released on 26 April 2013. Twenty-two of the 46 journalists and media workers arrested in December 2011 are still in custody. All are accused of terrorism.

"I had to wait more than eight months, in prison, before I could find out my indictment," said Zeynep Kuray. The charge is based on telephone conversations with other journalists, a series of articles she wrote on sexual harassment cases at Turkish Airlines, and investigative material mentioning the use of chemical weapons by the Turkish army against the PKK.

If found guilty, Zeynep Kuray risks seven years in prison: she is charged with "membership of an armed organization" (under Article 314 .2 of Turkey's Penal Code) and "membership of a terrorist organization" (under Article 5 of the Anti-Terror Act). "The truth is that they have nothing against me," she said. "They just accuse me of doing my work, of showing the truths they intended to hide."

Like most prosecuted journalists in Turkey, Zeynep Kuray continues to write from prison: "I denounced the dire health situation of South African women at the Bakirköy Women's Prison. A real scandal! Some have AIDS but they are not being treated. The authorities know that I will never be silent."

Reporter Baris Terkoglu, prosecuted in another case (OdaTV), made the same choice: "Continuing to practice journalism was obvious. To abandon my job would have been a victory for prosecutors who obey government orders. The state apparatus wants to intimidate the sector. We serve as an example."

Ercan Ipekçi, president of the Turkish Journalists' Union (TGS), confirms: "The government not only tries to silence dissenting voices, conducting robust operations to break the opposition media, whether pro-Kurdish, left-wing, or nationalist, but also intends to put pressure on journalists from ‘mainstream' media, who do not dare step out of line... It is very difficult for our union to organize solidarity with imprisoned journalists: those who are not in prison are afraid of being fired, as was the case with a number of chief editors, following the critical coverage of the crackdown at Gezi Park in Istanbul."

At the trial of the alleged "Press Wing" of the KCK, as in other trials targeting the press, one is struck by the lack of substance in the prosecution's arguments and by the severity of the charges. The EFJ General Secretary has repeatedly said: "The Turkish government criminalizes the mere exercise of journalism. There is no trace here of charges of violence or formal links with alleged terrorist organizations. Our brothers and sisters are just wrongly prosecuted for doing their job. Erdogan's government criminalizes legitimate coverage of the Kurdish cause."

The EFJ has repeated this message to Turkish journalists, but also to the organizations defending freedom of expression and gathered in Istanbul by MEPs Walesa and Karim: Human Rights Watch (represented by Emma Sinclair-Webb), Reporters without Borders (represented by Erol Önderoglu), and the Committee to Protect Journalists (represented by Ozgur Ogret).

"Business as Usual"

Before the High Court of Silivri, one of the defendants in the KCK case, Çagdas Kaplan, 25 years old, who worked for the Diha news agency, carefully dismantles all the prosecutor's arguments. He challenges the magistrate, who had access to all his email messages and his telephone conversations, to produce a single piece of evidence that proves he received instructions from the PKK.

One of the cornerstones of the charges against Çagdas Kaplan is a photograph of his making a victory sign in front of the signboard marking the entrance to the city of Kandil. This was considered in the indictment as a sign of affection for the PKK. But the man in the photograph taken is not Çagdas Kaplan! And Kaplan has never visited this city... "Business as usual," said his attorney Ramazan Demir. "The arguments of the prosecution sometimes border on the ridiculous," says Ricardo Gutiérrez. "One could smile if the fate of journalists who have nothing to discredit them was not at stake."

For the EFJ and the TGS, there is no question of easing the pressure - a commitment that is shared by other stakeholder organizations: RSF, CPJ, and Human Rights Watch. The European Parliament also keeps up the pressure: the EP Ad Hoc delegation for observation of trials of journalists in Turkey is expected to submit its final report - "A critical document," according to Jaroslaw Walesa - in the beginning of next year.

The EFJ more than ever recalls its demands: the immediate release of the 62 imprisoned Turkish journalists and the abolition of anti-terrorism laws, misused by the Turkish government to criminalize freedom of expression.

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