Turkish TV journalist jailed for criticising government’s handling of Kurdish issue

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Türkiye’s use of terrorism legislation to arrest an outspoken TV channel’s news director who criticised the lack of transparency in the government’s handling of the thorny Kurdish issue. His arrest was preceded by a smear campaign orchestrated by government allies.

Tele1 news director Merdan Yanardag was jailed by an Istanbul judge on a charge of “propaganda” in support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) – regarded as a terrorist organisation by the Turkish government and the European Union – after his arrest at the TV channel’s headquarters in the Istanbul suburb of Levent on 26 June.

Yanardag had criticised the government’s Kurdish policy on 21 June in response to a question from Galip Ensarioglu, a parliamentary representative of the ruling AKP party. In particular, he questioned the government’s decision to open talks with PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan – who has been jailed for the past 24 years – without making this decision public and without easing the harsh conditions in which Öcalan is being held, which include isolation in Imrali prison, an island prison in the Sea of Marmara, southwest of Istanbul.

According to Tele1, Yanardag’s arrest was preceded by a smear campaign by leaders, parliamentary representatives and supporters of the nationalist Good Party (Iyi Party) consisting of tweets and an edited video of Yanardag’s comments designed to make it look as though he had requested Öcalan’s release, when in fact he just said he thought keeping him in prison contradicted the decision to talk to him.

Ebubekir Sahin, the head of the High Council for Broadcasting (RTÜK), announced on 25 June that, because of these comments, Tele1 would be investigated by this regulator – which is dominated by the ruling coalition’s AKP and MHP parties – thereby exposing it to the possibility of a heavy administrative fine.

The Istanbul prosecutor’s office quickly followed suit, announcing that Yanardag was the subject of a judicial investigation for “PKK propaganda.” Counter-terrorism police arrested him at Tele1’s studios immediately after he organised a broadcast explaining this his comments had been twisted for political ends.

“Ever since President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government was returned to power in last May’s elections, we have seen an increase in surveillance of journalists who, like Merdan Yanardag, continue to speak out. The deliberate distortion of his remarks by the government and nationalist circles paved the way for his arrest and imprisonment. We demand his immediate release and an end to the unacceptable use of anti-terrorism legislation for political purposes.

Erol Onderoglu
RSF’s Türkiye representative

More than 40,000 people have been killed in the course of the conflict between the PKK and Türkiye’s armed forces since 1984. The Kurdish issue has been off limits for the Turkish media since the spring of 2015, when peace talks were broken off and military operations resumed in Türkiye’s southeastern Anatolian region. Some 32 pro-Kurdish media representatives have been jailed since June 2022. Eleven of them have been released since 16 May, some of them after being held without trial for more than a year.

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