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Journalists arrested in Van call on their colleagues: “Let them not forget about us”

Four journalists, who were arrested in Van on October 9 on grounds of the news outlets they work for and the news stories they penned, reminded their colleagues outside that there remain dozens of journalists behind bars, and called on for support and solidarity in order not to be forgotten.

Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), visited Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala in Van Prison, on October 26, Monday.

The questions addressed to the journalists during the interrogations held at the offices of the prosecution and judgeship were related to the news stories they had penned. Şehriban Abi noted that she felt very disturbed by the fact that some news outlets reported on their detainment as part of a “terror operation.” Calling out to her colleagues outside, Abi said, “Do not forget about us here because as of now, there are six journalists behind bars in Van Prison.”

Journalist Nazan Sala remarked the fact that their workplaces were targeted during the interrogations held at the police station, prosecution’s office and the judgeship, and stated that the case where Can Dündar and Erdem Gül stood trial for the “MİT trucks trial” was very similar to their own case. On the support they received from their colleagues, Sala said, “I believe the press is responsive in terms of what is going on. Any journalist except for those that work for the media owned by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), can face such problems. This amounts to the following understanding: ‘We can throw someone off the helicopter, but you cannot report on it.’ Everyone is at risk after our arrest.” 

The imprisoned journalists had reported on the throwing off of Servet Turgut and Osman Şiban from a helicopter in the rural area of Van’s Çatak county, based on official reports and documents.

‘The prosecutor should have thanked us’

On the general conditions of their imprisonment, MA reporter Adnan Bilen told MLSA that although their quarantine period had come to an end, they were still being kept in the temporary ward which prevented them from accessing any newspapers or a TV. Bilen said: “We demand our indictment to be prepared immediately, in order to know what we are accused of. We would like to settle our accounts. The prosecutor should have thanked us. We gathered many documents and evidence that would shed light on the investigation regarding the throwing off of two citizens from a helicopter. In return, we got arrested.” 

In his meeting with the lawyers, journalist Cemil Uğur noted that he knew why he was arrested and said, “Feeling uneasy because of our news reports, the government put the judiciary into operation in order to make us feel threatened. However reporting has not come to an end just because we got arrested. You can never silence the truth.”

Other imprisoned journalists Türfent and Ataman

Journalist Nedim Türfent who has been imprisoned in Van Prison since May 12, 2016 and whose 8 years and 9 months prison sentence for “membership in a terrorist organization” charges was upheld by the Court of Cassation in 2019, said the arrest of four journalists felt like a ‘deja-vu’ to him. Türfent said, “The prosecutors had written a similar script for me as well. We have had enough of baseless and unjustified arrests, however our judiciary which insists upon not taking off its ‘political spectacles’. It is plain as day that this arrest took place by an order coming from above.”

The now-shut Dicle News Agency (DİHA) reporter Ziya Ataman remains imprisoned in Van Prison since April 2016. Sentenced to 14 years and 3 months in prison on “membership on a terrorist organization” charges due to an armed clash that took place in Şırnak’s Beytüşşebap county in 2015, journalist Ataman said that their access to healthcare and hygiene was being denied, and added: “The state is taking advantage of the pandemic in canceling out everything. We are unable to exercise our fundamental rights.”

COVID-19 quarantine without towels, slippers, clothing

Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala, who are kept in the women’s section of the prison noted that their quarantine conditions were horrible. Abi stated they spent their quarantine under very unhealthy conditions and said, “We weren’t even given towels for a shower.” Sala, who stays with Abi added that they could not get towels, slippers, or clothing and said, “After leaving the quarantine I felt like I was out and free.”

About their visit to Van Prison where they met with all imprisoned journalists, MLSA Co-Director lawyer Veysel Ok said: “As Media and Law Studies Association we visited all journalists who are kept here, most of whom we provide legal support. This order of arrest issued in early October poses a threat for everyone, which is why all journalists should show solidarity with their colleagues. As MLSA, will continue to support and stand in solidarity with them.”

Noting that the overall morale of journalists is high and that their state of health is fine, local lawyer Barış Oflas stated: “The journalists who are in pre-trial detention are denied their identity as journalists, because they lack the official press card granted by the presidency. This specific claim may have much more dangerous consequences for all journalists across Turkey. Therefore it is very crucial for all journalists to follow and monitor the case of their colleagues in Van.”

The process of detainment and arrest

In the morning of October 6, Mesopotamia News Agency’s Van Bureau, and the homes of many reporters including those from Jinnews, were raided by the police. MA reporters Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur and Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi, alongside freelance journalist Nazan Sala were taken into police custody. After a three and a half day period of detainment, the journalists were arrested by the criminal judgeship of peace. Among those detained were Yeni Yaşam daily distributor Fehim Çetiner and former distributor Şükran Erdem, who were released with judicial control measures.