The International Press Institute (IPI) called today on Turkish authorities to drop charges against journalist Melis Alphan ahead of the second hearing on May 21 in her trial on terrorism-related charges. Alphan, previously worked as a columnist for newspapers Hürriyet and Milliyet and the news site Artı Gerçek and who writes on women, gender and environmental issues, is accused of “spreading terrorist propaganda via the press” over a photo that she posted on social media of the 2015 Newroz celebrations in Turkey’s southeastern province of Diyarbakır. She faces up to 7.5 years in prison.

“This is an outrageous example of targeting journalists who reported on, supported and shared previous official activities of the government during peace talks with Kurdish representatives to solve a long-term national conflict”, IPI Turkey Programme Coordinator Renan Akyavas said. “Alphan is being prosecuted just for sharing a photo taken from an officially sanctioned event during an official process which the government now aims to forget, act as if it never happened and to deem everything related to it illegal.”

She added: “The Turkish government’s current attitude is one of targeting those independent journalists who reported positively on the peace process but continued their criticism against the government since then and are therefore being targeted now on baseless accusations.”

“This is absolutely unacceptable, and Turkey must immediately end the prosecution of Alphan and compensate her for the damage done to her during this baseless prosecution.”

The indictment cited Alphan’s re-posted photo as criminal evidence as in the photo the flags of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and posters of Abdullah Öcalan, the founding leader of the outlawed organization, were visible in the crowd. Prosecutors claimed that the post had the intention of supporting the terrorist organization and legitimizing its methods.

During the first hearing on April 6, 2021, Alphan rejected all accusations and stated that the photo in question with the caption “Happy Newroz” in Kurdish was from an official Newroz celebration in Diyarbakır, which was aired on all television channels including state broadcaster TRT, and requested her acquittal. In Kurdish culture, Newroz is a celebration of the arrival of the spring and the new year. The prosecutor submitted the final opinion on the case in the first hearing, requesting Alphan to be sentenced. The court adjourned the hearing until May 21 for Alphan and her lawyers to submit a defense against the prosecutor’s final opinion.