The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, journalists, and media executives for press freedom, condemns the arrest of TELE1 TV Editor-in-Chief Merdan Yanardağ in Istanbul. Yanardağ was detained after criticizing the detention conditions of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan during a news programme. We call on the Turkish authorities to stop punishing journalists for publicly expressing their views within the scope of freedom of expression and to immediately release Merdan Yanardağ.
Yanardağ was detained on June 26 by officers of the Istanbul Police Department’s Counter-Terrorism Unit after the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office initiated an investigation into the June 20 broadcast of TELE 1 TV’s primetime news show hosted by Yanardağ. The prosecution demanded Yanardağ’s arrest on the charges of “praising crime and criminals” and “spreading terrorist propaganda”. Yanardağ was arrested on June 27.
In the said broadcast, Yanardağ criticized, at length, a recent comment by a member of parliament from the ruling AKP in relation to the “peace process” (an initiative which aimed to resolve the conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish militants and which ended in 2015). In one part, Yanardağ commented that the solitary confinement [since 2016] of [Kurdish militant leader] Abdullah Öcalan “has no place in law” and that it “must be lifted”. An AKP MP shared a clip of that part of the broadcast on social media.
Yanardağ said afterwards that the purpose of his comments had been distorted. “This is not a stance of praising Abdullah Öcalan … I spoke about how the law on the execution of penalties should be in a democratic country and why isolation should be lifted. It is not about praising or criticizing anyone.” He added that his comments were also intended to highlight AKP hypocrisy around the “peace process”. Following this, Turkey’s broadcast regulator, RTÜK, launched an investigation into TELE1 TV over Yanardağ’s statements.
In April 2023, Yanardağ was handed a 7-month and 15-day prison sentence by an Istanbul court due to an opinion piece. Apart from this, two separate criminal investigations were initiated against the journalist since the beginning of the year. In addition, TELE1 TV, owned by Yanardağ, was fined by RTÜK a total of four times in 2023, for Yanardağ’s statements.
IPI calls for Merdan Yanardağ’s immediate release and for all charges against him to be dropped. Freedom of expression protects the right of journalists and all citizens to express opinions on matters of public interest. This protection extends to opinions that the authorities may find shocking or disturbing. Turkey must cease punishing journalists for expressing their views in the course of carrying out their journalistic work.