Arrests of Journalists in Turkey ahead of the Elections

Published: 02 May 2023

Handcuffs KeyboardTurkish authorities' pressure against journalists continues ahead of the country's presidential elections. (Photo: Pxhere, License)

By Zdravko Ljubas

 The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a global press freedom watchdog, urged Turkey to halt the persecution of journalists and media workers and to release those detained for carrying out their work.

The New York-based organization specifically requested Turkish authorities to release journalists detained in the southeastern region of Diyarbakır for their alleged ties to the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

CPJ stated in a press release that, as of Friday, one of the journalists had been released, five had been formally arrested, and another had been taken into custody, according to multiple media reports.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit organization safeguarding freedom of information, stated that the journalists were among the more than 100 individuals, including lawyers and local politicians, who were on April 25 arrested in a major police operation, 19 days ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections.

The RSF alleged that the authorities were targeting pro-Kurdish opposition circles not only in Diyarbakır but also in 20 other Turkish cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir.

According to RSF, Abdurrahman Gök, an editor with the Mesopotamia Agency (MA); Ahmet Kanbal, an MA reporter; Osman Akın, the editor of the daily Yeni Yaşam; Kadri Esen, the owner of the weekly Xwebûn; and freelancer Mehmet Yalçın were among those arrested in Diyarbakır.

Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator, emphasized that Turkey's continued onslaught on Kurdish media over alleged terrorist ties shows how authorities are attempting to silence dissenting voices ahead of the country's presidential elections, scheduled for May 14.

"Authorities should release all journalists held in custody at once and stop abusing the country's anti-terror laws to harass the press," Said said.

CPJ also noted that Turkish authorities recently imprisoned Kurdish journalists in Diyarbakır and Ankara, accusing them of PKK membership months later based on scant evidence. If charged and convicted of membership in a terrorist organization, the journalists could face up to 15 years in prison under Turkey's anti-terrorism laws, which the authorities often use to suppress media criticism.

RSF representative in Turkey, Erol Onderoglu, stated that "it seems clear that this was a political maneuver designed to dismantle pro-Kurdish media and destabilize opposition parties before the elections.”

“These arrests, which have become so frequent that they no longer cause astonishment, constitute appalling violations of press freedom that must end at once," he added.

Turkey was already one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, with 40 behind bars as of CPJ's December 1, 2022, prison census, prior to the latest detentions. The country ranked 149th out of 180 countries in the RSF's World Press Freedom Index last year.