Journalists in Turkey have been facing increased pressures, but especially in the 'eastern' regions, pressures have taken on extra dimensions. The overview of the arrests and detentions facing journalists in Van during the past year highlights the situation.
The World Press Freedom 2020 Index, which evaluates the state of journalism in 180 countries every year, has indicated that Turkey was ranked 154th out of 180 countries. According to the Index, Turkey continues to be one of the leading countries where journalists face the most pressures in their profession.
The World Press Freedom report states that more than 200 journalists and media workers have been imprisoned in Turkey during the past five years.
The increased pressure on journalists in Turkey finds its most extensive expression on journalists who report from the Kurdish majority provinces of the country, mainly from the east and south east. The increase in attacks on journalists during the last year in the eastern province of Van (Wan) illustrates the nature of this ‘special orientation’ in targeting journalists reporting from the Kurdish regions.
Five journalists were arrested and twelve journalists were detained in Van last year, MA reports.
During the police raids in Van on 6 October last year, Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, Jin News reporter Şehriban Abi, journalist Nazan Sala, Yeni Yaşam newspaper worker Fehim Çetiner and a former worker of the Yeni Yaşam newspaper, Şükran Erdem, were detained. After four days of detention, the four journalists were sent to prison.
These raids came after reports were published in MA, Jin News and Yeni Yaşam regarding the torture on two Kurdish villagers from Van, who were thrown from a military helicopter by soldiers. The indictment prepared against the journalists accused them of ”reporting on events against the state” and demanded prison sentences for each of them on the grounds of “terrorism”.
As part of the same investigation, MA reporter Zeynep Durgut was also detained. Surprisingly, the journalists in Van were not only accused of the news that they published, but also of the news they “did not publish”, as the prosecutor showed ‘that’ as evidence against the journalists (i.e., it was noted that they had never reported on events relating to “sports and tabloid journalism”).
Another journalist arrested in Van in the last year was MA reporter Dindar Karataş. Karataş’ phone conversations with news editors and news sources, and the news of torture of some Kurdish villagers in Ağrı (Agiri) province, were considered “as an evidence of crime”.
In the indictment prepared against journalist Oktay Candemir, under the allegation of “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation”, the slogans he recorded from an event he covered 16 years ago were considered as ‘evidence of crime’. Candemir also faced four different investigations, based on his posts on social media.
Ruşen Takva, a freelance journalist in Van also faced charges solely because he covered a Democratic Regions Party (DBP) demonstration and press statement titled ‘The freedom and the national unity of the Kurdish people’. A prosecutor in Van demanded Takva’s imprisonment for nine to eighteen years: the trial Takva still continues.
Journalists in Van continue to face various types of oppression. A recent example was on 5 March, when journalists were prevented by the police from conducting interviews with politicians who organised a press statement in Van.