Turkey is one of the most prolific jailers of journalists worldwide, with at least 37 currently imprisoned and many more awaiting trial.
Pressure from the authorities is particularly acute in the country’s predominantly Kurdish south-east region, where independent reporting is crucial to covering the ongoing internal conflict between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The PKK, designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has been fighting an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for four decades.
In a recent podcast, journalist Gülistan Korban told Ahval about her experiences of journalism as a Kurdish woman based in Diyarbakır, the region’s largest city.
Assessing the increasingly oppressive atmosphere facing journalists in the south-east, Korban said the situation had become drastically worse: “Previously, we could write and follow stories as we wished, now we have to think forty times before writing an article. Even writing a sentence, we think ‘what will happen to us tomorrow?’”
But these concerns do not necessarily apply to all reporters in the region, Korban said. “If your position is close to the government, of course, you can go anywhere you want. But if you’re approaching from an opposition perspective, you can’t follow every story.”
Alongside the constant threat of detention and imprisonment, the state has found subtle, but just as effective, ways of inhibiting journalism in predominantly Kurdish areas.
The forcible closure of Kurdish-language media outlets has left few job opportunities for journalists working in their mother tongue, Korban said.
“In the past, there were not too many people writing in Kurdish, so they had no difficulty in finding a job,” she said. “Now the situation is reversed. After reporting in Kurdish for the last seven years, I’ve been compelled to write in Turkish.”
This economic fallout had disproportionately impacted women, reducing the number of female journalists working in the region from hundreds a few years ago to less than a handful, Korban said.
“During the peace process (between the PKK and the Turkish state that ended in 2015) you could go to news conferences and see 50 percent women. Now there are only four of five women working in the field.”
This shift in gender balance has exacerbated the threats female journalists feel when doing their job, Korban said.
“As a woman, you feel more comfortable and more secure when you see female journalists,” she said.
“We live in a country where hundreds of women are killed, and every day we hear about another woman being murdered … We pay special attention to our words when talking to news sources, your speech can be misinterpreted at any time.”
But despite the challenges, Korban said she was determined to continue her work.
“We are the few journalists who resist though writing in Kurdish.”