Press Freedom

21 Kurdish journalists are in police custody yet ‘no one cares’


35 journalists were taken in as part of the KCK arrests. Most of these colleagues were working in media outlets such as DİHA and Özgür Gündem.They voiced their outcry in the letters they published. However, no one cares. None of these journalists have participated in terror activities. None of these journalists carried a gun, pulled a trigger, or killed anyone. These journalists reflected their ideas. Yes, they took sides in the Kurdish issue. Yes, they reflected views that we did not share.

These words belong to Mehmet Ali Birand, a renowned journalist who,in his column, took up the issue of Kurdish journalists sent to prison during the KCK Press trials in 2011. Commenting on the charges that the journalists faced, Birand said, “The evidence consists of written news, news photos, trips taken to cover news.”

And exactly 11 years have passed, the calendars show 2022. A total of 21 Kurdish journalists were taken into custody in an operation conducted one morning. This time Kurdish journalist Abdurrahman Gök recalls Mehmet Ali Birand saying: “In the 2000s, Mehmet Ali Birand wrote a self-criticism article for being silent about Kurdish journalists. They remain silent today as well.”

On June 8th, 21 journalists, mostly from Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) and JinNews, were taken into custody during an operation in Diyarbakır.

Because of the confidentiality order imposed on the file, no clear information has yet been learned about the investigation. All that is known is some information from the Anadolu Agency (AA) and the Ihlas News Agency (İHA), which had served the news of the operation at 08:00 in the morning. While journalists continue to be targeted with such news, it is a matter of curiosity how the information regarding the investigation which cannot even be accessed by lawyers, has been served to AA and İHA.

Another matter of curiosity is the fact that the detention of 21 journalists is not newsworthy in the eyes of the public, the press community and press organizations. To put it more precisely; the fact that it is being ignored. However, this operation, in which so many journalists were taken into custody should have been seen as a big blow to the freedom of press and expression. There is another fact: Every time there is a big blow to the freedom of the press, it means that a great disaster of equal portions is on the way.  Let’s take a look at the period of the KCK Press case that Birand mentioned. On December 20, 2011, only 8 days after Kurdish politicians and Kurdish journalists were taken into custody in a major operation, Roboski was bombed on December 28, 2011. 34 Kurds, most of whom were children, were killed in the Roboski massacre.

Today, despite all the historical facts, the detention of numerous journalists still doesn’t cause enough reaction in the public. Sedat Yılmaz, one of the editors of the Mesopotamia News Agency, whose colleagues have been taken into custody, reproached in a tweet he had shared a day after his colleagues were taken into custody : Whether you like it or not, yesterday 20 Kurdish journalists were taken into custody. Not a single news outlet covered it except the headline of Yeni Yaşam, the subhead of Evrensel, and the remarkable one line coverage of Birgün.”

Sedat Yılmaz:  We make news in a geography dominated by war and violence

Sedat was right, , if it were anywhere else, the public and press community would have risen up after so many journalists were taken into custody. But as Birand said, ‘’no one cares.’’ I wanted to talk about why it is like this with Sedat Yılmaz and Abdurrahman Gök, editors of the Mesopotamia News Agency, who were also my colleagues for a while. I wanted to give their words as they are, without interrupting, “he said ”, “he explained”.

Sedat Yılmaz says that “A journalist is responsible for the news he/she made; not of the organization he/she works for.’’ He reminds those who “do not like” the language of the Kurdish press or the news they produce, of the conditions under which they work:

“Maybe you don’t like our language a little bit, it might be contrary to your feelings and your world view. Our news may contain statements that reflect our political views. But here is the thing, we make news in a war environment. We are making news in a geography where widespread violence and oppression dominate and where it is systematically maintained. We’re talking about a geography where people are kidnapped, where people are executed with a single bullet in the back of their head. In this environment, you may not be able to keep common sense too broad. I would have also liked to talk about other kind of news, but I can’t do it until the war is over.”

Sedat Yılmaz

“We are talking about reporting in a geography where mountains, water, villages and plateaus are banned. These words targeting our journalism are easily uttered by those who do not spoil or change their own comfort. But some friends came to us. Our friends who came to the news watch went out with our friends for a few hours a day and saw what kind of place they came to, what kind of world they were in when they made the news. We are going through this 24/7.’’

‘We may have different topics but we do journalism as much as you do’

”We do not live and are governed by the same laws, the same legal order, the same practices ‘’ Yılmaz says. He tells about the fact that the police in Diyarbakır, Van and Hakkari walk around, showing their weapons, and what facts they report:  “This is a message. The state is manifesting itself by showing us its stick. That’s what we’re writing. Of course, our issues, problems and perspectives will be different. Because we are not going through the same things, they need to understand that. He needs to put aside his prejudice and see it for himself. But he doesn’t want to spoil his comfort zone.”

“We can discuss our journalism, journalists can discuss our journalism, and they should. Our colleagues can criticize us, share and point out our mistakes. But when it comes to the Kurds, there is always this, ‘Are they telling the truth, are they doing journalism?’ We do it as much as you do. We also make visible and express what our people are going through. I would like to tell those who ‘terrorize’ our work. The Kurdish problem is at the root of all the problems of this country. The entire anti-democratic, prohibitive and oppressive order is put into place first for the Kurds. A freedom of the press that is not for us will not work for you either, there will be no real freedom of the press unless this problem is resolved.’’

Abdurrahman Gök: The press has returned to its position in the 90’s

Abdurrahman Gök (Photo: İsmail Özgür Zeren)

This silence is not actually the first one.The reason is, as Sedat Yılmaz said: The news of the Kurdish press is always approached with suspicion. However, if it wasn’t the Kurdish press, we would not be able to know about the massacres in the 90s, the evacuation of villages, inhuman tortures, the children in Pozantı Prison, if we go to more recent history, what happened during the curfews, the corruption of the trustees, what has been done to Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban, İpek Er or what Musa Orhan has done. In another example, if it weren’t  for the journalist Abdurrahman Gök who took the photos that day or Nuri Akman from the same agency who went after that knife, the information that the governor’s office and the police passed would have been accepted as completely true and Kemal Kurkut would be called a suicide bomber today. At this point, I leave the floor to Abdurrahman Gök, one of the editors of Mesopotamia News Agency:

“Societies, associations and columnists who call themselves dissidents and claim to defend the rights of journalists, have come to play ostrich when it is Kurdish journalists who are oppressed and arrested. In the  90’s, when unsolved murders were intense, our pioneers could make sense of this to some extent. Because at that time, being in solidarity with Kurdish journalists was to be on a bed of nails. But, in the beginning of the 2000s, the mainstream media started to criticize itself about this attitude. They started to carry to their headlines the truths which the Kurdish press told in the 90’s. They began to write about one by one what the Kurds were going through in this geography, how people were shot in the back of the head and how the villages that were evacuated and burned down.Perhaps that period was relatively comfortable.”

‘Journalists who came here for the news watch should remember the conditions under which we work’

The Turkish media self-criticized yesterday, but what about today? Gök’s criticism of the general press of the today is very clear:

“As of today, they are back to the position they took in the 90s. 21 Kurdish journalists are taken into custody and there is not a single line, not a single second of news about these 21 journalists in the newspapers, media organs and televisions that call themselves dissidents. I just watched a news broadcast. Talking about the freedom of the press, the news anchor who broke a glass reported about a journalist in Cyprus who was sentenced to 2 months and 20 days in prison. But right next to you, there are 21 journalists whose houses were raided and  their children were deprived of their sleep just yesterday. They are held in custody in solitary confinement cells. You do not believe that these people are doing journalism, at least give the news that the police department served. In the statement of the police department, it is already stated that these people are journalists. Why don’t you at least cover this?”

“I took the photos of Kemal Kurkut’s murder moments but there were many journalists like me there and we followed up on it. There were members of the mainstream media besides us. There were also reporters from many agencies and television channels. They may not have been able to relay that moment with their photographs, but they witnessed it. A journalist reports what he witnessed firsthand. After I published the photos, the vast majority of this media played blind and deaf.

 ‘If journalists surrender to fear, the whole of society will be buried in fear’

Abdurrahman Gök recalls the journalists who came from the West to be in solidarity with Kurdish journalists during the curfews between 2015 and 2016 and says, “Remember those days again.”

“They witnessed the conditions and circumstances under which journalists work here. Our news can be agitated or they may not like the language. But a journalist, if he is a journalist, can find and extract the essence of the news from that language. When you talk about the two citizens who were thrown out of a helicopter, they reduced the news by saying, ‘The chopper got close to the ground and they were thrown out like that.’  They said, ‘If they had been thrown out of the helicopter, they would have been shattered’, Servet Turgut had already been shattered, his bones were shattered. Osman Şiban lost his memory. Only later he could tell what happened. How can there be a difference between being thrown from 5 meters up and thrown from 50 meters up? Aside from that, isn’t it still torture being thrown from 5 meters? Isn’t it the state’s mind to think this way? Is it not to exonerate the state in a crime against the Kurd?’’

Gök explains this silence through the fear created about standing together with the Kurds and points out to the power of solidarity: “If fear prevails in a society and journalists have surrendered to it, that society will be plunged into darkness. Aren’t journalists, doing public service, the ones who will save this society from darkness? We can come out of this darkness with solidarity.”