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The trials against Ruşen Takva: Reporting on assemblies and marches during a demonstration ban

Photo: İsmail Özgür Zeren
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According to rights defenders, there has been a general ban on gatherings and demonstrations that started after the nationwide protests against the government in 2013 and peaked in terms of strictness after the 2016 coup attempt. In fact, according to Article 34 of the Turkish Constitution, which regulates the “Right to Organize Meetings and Demonstrations”, “everyone has the right to organize unarmed and peaceful assemblies and demonstrations without prior permission.” However, in reality, this right cannot be exercised; assemblies often result in police intervention. For example, according to the report “Blocking the Streets: Violations of Freedom of Assembly and Demonstration (2015- 2019)” prepared by the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), 4 771 incidents in which the freedom of assembly and demonstration were violated occurred between 2015 and 2019.

For journalists, covering meetings and the police violence witnessed in these meetings, can also have legal consequences. On the grounds of meetings or demonstrations they attended, press members, civil society activists, and rights defenders have been increasingly subjected to judicial harassment based on Law No. 2911 on Assemblies and Demonstrations, or on the grounds of terrorism-related crimes, depending on the nature of the demonstration.

Ruşen Takva, a freelance journalist in Van, is one of dozens of journalists on trial for having covered meetings and protests. In the indictment prepared against Takva, who joined the press statement organized by the Democratic Regions Party (DBP) in Van in January 2021 as a member of the press, it was claimed that he “led” the crowd gathered for the press statement.

Though acquitted of the charges at the second hearing, as many journalists who operate in the Kurdish region of Turkey, Takva stood trial in separate cases because of his news reports and social media posts.

Starting his journalism career in 2005, Takva worked in the Diyarbakır and Van offices of İMC TV between 2015-2016. İMC TV was shut down with a decree in September 2016, during military operations in Sur, Cizre, and Nusaybin, which were carried out by the Turkish Armed Forces and the General Directorate of Security against PKK members.

Photo: İsmail Özgür Zeren

Takva has faced many investigations – some of which turned into lawsuits – stemming from allegations such as “terrorist propaganda”, “degrading the reputation of the state in the international area” or “inciting the public to enmity and hatred”. The photographs he took during the 2015-2016 operations became the subject of an investigation on charges of “terrorist propaganda without being a member” in 2018. In the trial, he was sentenced to 1 year and 8 months in prison. The case continues before the Constitutional Court.

Like many of his colleagues, Takva says that the purpose of such political trials is to oppress individual journalists. In his case, the pressure resulted in the opposite of the desired effect:

“To escape from the pressure, which they want to impose on almost all fields, I clung to my profession even tighter. In other words, this policy, which was implemented to put pressure on and to prevent journalism, resulted in the increase of journalistic activities. Hence, I have come to adopt the motto: The more pressure, the more journalism.”

Takva has also recorded the border crossings of people fleeing from Afghanistan to Turkey. The news story of Takva, who has been targeted for having photographed the border crossings, was at first denied by the Ministry of Interior. No action could be taken against Takva for the news story he had documented, but the pressure exerted upon him increased through other cases.

For freelance journalists, facing judicial harassment is more challenging than for their colleagues who are supported by media institutions. According to Takva, a journalist working under the safety of an institution and a freelance journalist are socially not equal, to say the least. However, freelance journalists can face the consequences with courage and self-established solidarity platforms:

“This social injustice is very much manipulated by the authorities and it diversifies the scope of pressure that can be applied. Freelance journalists who want to minimize these pressures have to build their own power on a societal base, sometimes at the expense of making mistakes. Because the stronger the individual, the more cautious and the less repressive is the direction of the authority that determines the dose of repression.”