The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, journalists, and media executives, condemns the detention of 11 Kurdish journalists in Turkey on October 25, 2022. The detentions took place across several different cities as part of what authorities claimed was an “anti-terror operation”. Turkey regularly abuses anti-terror law to target journalists, who are frequently subject to arbitrary charges and imprisonment. The detentions fit a pattern of serious attacks on press freedom in Turkey. IPI calls on Turkish authorities to release these 11 journalists and all other reporters behind bars.

On October 25, 11 journalists were detained in cities of Ankara, İstanbul, Van, Diyarbakır, Urfa, Mersin and Mardin in simultaneous house raids as part of an anti-terror investigation led by the Ankara Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office. The Diyarbakır-based Dicle Fırat Journalists Association (DFG) reported that those detained were Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) managing editor Diren Yurtsever; MA reporters Deniz Nazlım, Selman Güzelyüz, Zemo Ağgöz, Berivan Altan, Hakan Yalçın, Emrullah Acar, and Ceylan Şahinli; and JINNEWS reporters Habibe Eren and Öznur Değer.

Authorities placed details of the case under a 24-hour access restriction. This is part of a wider pattern in Turkey by which lawyers are often denied access to journalist clients and case information, which makes it difficult to mount an effective defense. According to DFG, another JINNEWS reporter, Derya Ren, was detained as part of a separate investigation, the details of which are also not yet known.

DFG co-chair and MA journalist Dicle Müftüoğlu told IPI that they learned of the initial details of the operation through a statement produced by security forces and circulated within some WhatsApp press groups based in Ankara. The statement alleged that “suspects disguised as journalists” had been conducting press activities on behalf of the outlawed PKK.

Müftüoğlu said that MA’s Ankara office was also raided and that police confiscated books, newspaper archives, and other items. Müftüoğlu said the fact that the statement circulated among press groups was produced by security forces and not the public prosecutor’s office violated the defendants’ due process and presumption of innocence.

In an official statement, the Ankara General Directorate of Security said on social media that “11 suspects out of arrest warrants on 14 were detained in simultaneous operations as part of an anti-terror operation against the Mezopotamya News Agency, which functions under the Press Council of the PKK/KCK terrorist organization and publishes news to incite public to hatred and enmity which was detected after technical research”. The statement also says that a number of digital materials, books and documents were confiscated. The official statement was accompanied by a short video published by the security forces which shows several journalists being forcibly removed from their homes, handcuffed and with their heads pushed toward the ground.

“These operations are just to criminalize journalists to create the public perception that these are terrorists”, Müftüoğlu said, referring to the video.

Earlier this month, a delegation of IPI, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT) traveled to Diyarbakir as part of a press freedom mission to Turkey. Delegation members met with the Dicle Fırat Journalists Association and local journalists, including reporters with MA and JINNEWS. The IPI-led delegation listened to journalists’ concerns related to constant legal harassment, detentions, monitoring, and surveillance that they said was the result of being doubly targeted for their journalism and for their Kurdish identity. The delegation also held a brief demonstration in solidarity with 15 other journalists and one media worker who were arrested in June 2022 in Diyarbakır under terrorism charges and remain behind bars.

We stand in solidarity with all our colleagues and renew our call on Turkey to release all journalists without delay.