The International Press Institute (IPI) urged Turkish authorities today to immediately release two journalists detained last night in Giresun, northern Turkey, where they were investigating the death of an 11-year-old girl, Rabia Naz Vatan, in an alleged hit-and-run incident April 2018.

Investigative journalist Canan Coşkun and journalist and documentary filmmaker Kazım Kızıl had traveled to Giresun on November 13 following the establishment of a parliamentary commission to investigate the death. However, in the evening police arrested the journalists at their hotel, searched their cars and confiscated their equipment.

While held in custody overnight, Çoşkun was questioned on the purpose of their visit, whom they had interviewed and on what topics. Authorities were reportedly especially interested in an interview with one of the witnesses in the case. According to local news, Coşkun was allegedly charged with “threatening behavior, attempted blackmail, insult, intentional injury and deprivation of liberty”.

Local reports also stated that the deceased child’s father, Şaban Vatan, who has been demanding a proper investigation into his daughter’s death, was detained along with the journalists. Şaban Vatan has maintained that his daughter was killed in a hit-and-run involving the car of a local politician and that the investigation into her death had been covered up.

Both journalists have been held in the police center of Eynesil, Giresun for almost 24 hours. They both recently have been transferred to the public prosecutor’s office and they will be brought in front of a court this evening. It remains unclear whether or not there is an arrest warrant for them.

IPI Turkey Programme Manager Oliver Money-Kyrle underlined the fact that police should not hinder journalists from any sort of investigation, especially such a high-profile case involving local politicians. “This is very disturbing action by the police. They should be ensuring the journalists’ safety to report rather than jailing them”, Money-Kyrle said.

“We demand their immediate release so they can continue to pursue their story.”

Both Coşkun and Kızıl have been previously targeted by judicial lawsuits and detained in separate cases for their reporting and journalistic work. Kızıl was sentenced on June 19, 2019, to one year, three months and 16 days for “insulting the president” while Coşkun was sentenced to two years and three months for “targeting an individual [via press]” in 2018.