The International Press Institute (IPI) today called on Turkish authorities to halt the continued crackdown on the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency (MA). Dindar Karataş, an MA reporter, was arrested November 26 on charges of “membership of a terrorist organization”. On November 27, MA reporter Hakan Yalçın was taken into custody during a police raid at his home in Ankara, according to local news reports.
Karataş was detained on November 24 in a raid at his home in eastern city of Van. His camera and phone were confiscated by the police. Local reports stated that Karataş was taken into custody as part of an investigation by the Erzurum public prosecutor’s office. Same day, Karataş was taken from Van to Erzurum for interrogation and was sent to Erzurum H-type prison two days later. According to MA reports, Karataş was questioned about interviews he had conducted with some politicians and phone calls he made with sources on the news articles on armed conflicts in cities of Erzurum and Ağrı.
“We knew there was discomfort, especially against our Van office after the reports on villagers dropped from a military helicopter. We think Dindar’s arrest is related to this discomfort of local authorities”, Ömer Çelik, managing editor of MA, told IPI.
Çelik also said that Yalçın was taken into custody as part of a simultaneous operation in ten cities this week against Kurdish activists and politicians in which a total of 60 people were detained. Çelik said that Yalçın is currently under police interrogation. The official charges and details regarding his detention are still unclear.
“The government talks about reforms in the judicial system, yet we still see such attacks against oppositional voices”, Çelik said, stressing that the government’s intention around judicial reforms is not considered genuine.
“We call on authorities to release both MA reporters immediately”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “The agency has faced continued harassment by the authorities as part of a wider crackdown on news reporting by journalists in Turkey’s Kurdish areas.”
Several other MA journalists have been targeted recently. In early October, MA reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur were arrested along with two other journalists after reporting on two villagers who were allegedly dropped of a helicopter by Turkish armed forces in Van.
The Turkey-based Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), which is providing legal representation to MA reporters, visited Uğur and Bilen in prison after reports that COVID-19 measures were not being followed in the facility.
On November 20, the Turkish Constitutional Court issued an interim decision denying Bilen and Uğur’s petition for preventive release due to the pandemic. The court stated that “there is no evidence that the prison conditions journalists held in pose risk to their safety” and that there is effective access to health care in the facility.
However, in the first outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, the Turkish parliament passed a parole law to release up to 90,000 inmates in order to relieve overcrowded prisons. It notably excluded from that order prisoners who had been sentenced for terrorist-related crimes, which are often used to silence critics of the government including many journalists. The law itself arguably demonstrates that the Turkish authorities themselves consider prisons to pose a health risk.