Van court accepts the indictment prepared by the Public Prosecutor’s Office against five journalists, four of whom were arrested following the news report on the torturing of two citizens by law enforcement officials. Journalists are charged with “membership in a terrorist organization” based on the editorial policies of the media outlets they work for. Journalists’ first hearing will be held on April 2, 2021 at the Van 5th High Criminal Court.
The indictment involves a great deal of evidence indicating that the defendants are journalists, and claims that the media outlets who employ the defendants receive instructions from a terrorist organization and report “against the state and its institutions.”
The criminal investigation against Mesopotamia Agency (MA) reporters Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur and Zeynep Durgut, Jinnews reporter Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala has been completed 130 days after the four journalists were arrested . Bilen, Uğur, Abi and Sala were arrested on October 9, 2020 after reporting on the torture and throwing off of Osman Şiban and Servet Turgut from a helicopter by soldiers in Van’s Çatak district.
The indictment was accepted by Van 5th high Criminal Court on the 130th day of the journalists’ imprisonment and charges five journalists with “membership in an armed organization.” Additionally, defendant Sala is charged with “making terrorist propaganda.”
The investigation resulted in a decision of non-prosecution regarding newspaper distributors Ramazan Çınar, Ferdi Sertkal, Mikail Tunçdemir, Fehim Çetiner and Şükran Erdem, who were detained in the early days of the investigation.
Prosecutor asked whether journalists have press cards to the Presidency
The indictment presents the phone calls that the journalists made with their news sources, the visuals from the digital materials confiscated during home raids and the publications found in their homes as evidence for the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.” Despite putting forth plenty of evidence proving that defendants are journalists, the indictment claims that the media outlets where the defendants are employed receive instructions from a terrorist organization.
Indictment also noted that the Van Chief Prosecutor’s Office asked the Presidency’s Directorate of Communications in writing whether the five journalists were issued official press cards by the state. The prosecutor will relay the reply to the court when it is received.
Lack of tabloid news and sports used as evidence for links to terrorist organization
Referring to the open source research reports prepared by law enforcement on the websites of Mesopotamia News Agency (MA), Yeni Yaşam newspaper and Jinnews; the indictment claims that these media outlets operate according to instructions of the Kurdistan Communities Union’s (KCK) Press Committee. While all three media outlets allegedly reported on various events on the country’s agenda “against the state and its institutions by agitating with exaggeration and making propaganda in favour of an armed terrorist organization,” the indictment states that “tabloid news, sports or weather events were not covered as they remain outside the perspective of the press committee [of KCK].”
The indictment also notes that many decisions to ban access to the websites of the media outlets, which are allegedly acting according to instructions of the KCK, were issued on the grounds that they “published content that incited the public to hatred and enmity.” The Prosecutor’s Office requested written information from the respective Judgeships of Peace on the access ban decisions against news reports or banning of their domain names.
Gaining subscribers for Yeni Yaşam newspaper is criminal evidence
Nazan Sala, one of the imprisoned journalists, is facing additional charges of “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” Sala’s four social media posts from 2015 and 2016 are presented as evidence for this charge. In one post, the journalist retweeted the photo of a funeral, and in another post she wrote: “AKP hit rock bottom in Kurdistan, AKP’s vote share in Diyarbakır, where the bombs were detonated, is now at 15%. So, the AKP can only get one deputy from Amed.”
Additionally, the fact that Sala relayed the information on people applying for subscription to the Yeni Yaşam daily to Ferdi Sertkal, who was responsible for the distribution of the newspaper in Van, entered the indictment as evidence for crime.
Publications found at home and news sources presented as evidence
The indictment emphasizes that in the tapes of the phone calls that Adnan Bilen had with his news sources, he introduces himself as a reporter of the Mesopotamia Agency. Without bringing forward any concrete evidence, it is claimed that Bilen had organic ties to KCK and acted on the instructions of its members.
Copies of the newspapers Azadiya Welat, Özgür Gündem, and Yeni Yaşam as well as the journals Kurdish History, Democratic Modernity and Jineology, that were found in the home of the journalist, were included in the indictment as evidence. It is claimed that these publications make “PKK/KCK propaganda” and were used to strengthen the ideological foundation of the organization.
The book titled “Bedirhan – A Judi Legend” also entered the indictment as criminal evidence. It is noted that the book, published by Ithaki Publishing House, contains “expressions that a so-called genocide was committed against Kurdish and Armenian people.”
During the search conducted in Şehriban Abi’s home, three press cards issued by Jinnews on behalf of Abi were found. It is claimed that the news texts and photos found in the digital materials seized in Abi’s home were also praising the organization and its members.
Reporting on March 8 demonstrations with a “provocative language”
Among the evidence presented against journalist Zeynep Durgut, who is on trial without detention, is also her participation in the live broadcast of Sterk TV on March 8, 2020. Durgut introduced herself as a Jinnews reporter during the live broadcast and allegedly conveyed information about the events on the International Women’s Day on March 8 with a “provocative language.”
During the investigation, journalist Durgut was taken into custody in Cizre where she was following a news story on December 17, 2020, and was released after four days of detention. One piece of evidence for the charges of “membership in a terrorist organization” that features in the indictment is a video with a slogan in favour of Abdullah Öcalan that is among the digital materials confiscated when Durgut was taken into custody.