Turkey arrests four Kurdish journalists ahead of crucial elections

JinNews reporter Beritan Canozer, shown in an unknown location in an undated photo, is one of four Kurdish journalists accused of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party. [VOA]

Four Kurdish journalists appeared in court in Turkey this week, accused of having ties to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

JinNews reporter Beritan Canozer, journalist Remzi Akkaya, Mesopotamia News Agency (MA) editor Abdurrahman Gok, and MA reporter Mehmet Sah Oruc were taken into custody in coordinated dawn raids Tuesday, in which Turkish police detained at least 128 people in 21 cities.

Among those detained are 10 journalists, a lawyer representing arrested Kurdish journalists in other court cases, and members of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), the third-biggest party in the Turkish parliament.

HDP faces a party closure case in Turkey's Constitutional Court as it is accused of being linked to the PKK, a charge that the HDP denies.

Allegations include spreading propaganda

The detentions came ahead of Turkey's upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections May 14, which are seen as the biggest electoral challenge that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has faced during two decades in power.

A Turkish security source told Reuters that the suspects were accused of providing financing, recruiting and spreading propaganda for the PKK, which is designated as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States, and the European Union.

In a joint statement, several international rights organizations, including Freedom House, the International Press Institute, and PEN International, have called on the Turkish authorities "to stop the systematic harassment and intimidation of Kurdish journalists, media workers, media outlets, the lawyers that defend them, and Kurdish political party officials, give them access to legal counsel, disclose full details of charges brought and to ensure that they are released from detention."

'This no longer surprises anyone'

Several journalism organizations reacted to the arrest of the journalists.

Erol Onderoglu, the Turkish representative for media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, said that the police raids Tuesday were carried out to crack down on the Kurdish journalists.

"It is clear that the investigation and operation were carried out to purge the Kurdish media and put the opposition parties in trouble before the election, and this no longer surprises anyone," Onderoglu told VOA. "With these arrests, it seems that we will once again gain a reputation of being among the countries which arrested the most journalists in the world, as was the case after the coup attempt."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists' annual prison census in 2022, Turkey was among the top five jailers of journalists, as 40 journalists were behind bars last year.

Veysel Ok, co-director of the Istanbul-based Media and Law Studies Association, thinks that the operation has threatened freedom of expression and election security in Turkey.

"Lawyers will be on duty at the ballot box, and journalists are the ones who will inform the public about possible unlawfulness, corruption and extortion at the polls. Therefore, there is a serious risk," Ok told VOA.

Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu posted a video of the police raids Tuesday on Twitter and said, "Either on the mountain or in the city, we are always breathing down their necks."

"This video shows that the operation aims to create psychological, political and social fear among the public. In an operation within the limits of the law, the interior minister cannot post a video like this. Here is a logic that equates journalism, being a lawyer, or rights advocate with terrorism," Ok said.

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