Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioglu

Award-winning filmmaker Çayan Demirel and veteran journalist Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, directors of the documentary Bakur (which means north in Kurdish), were charged in 2017 under Article 7/2-1 of Law no. 3713 on Counter-Terrorism with “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” with the film, which was screened in 2015 in the mostly Kurdish-populated Batman province during the Turkish-Kurdish peace process.

After a number of court hearings, on July 18, 2019, the Batman 2nd High Criminal Court sentenced both directors to 4 years and 6 months in prison; the initial 3-year sentence was increased by the court as required by Turkish law because the “propaganda” was made “through press and broadcast.” The verdict was made in absentia without hearing the defendants’ last statements, and a travel ban was also imposed on them because “there was no positive conviction that they would not commit a crime again.” Both men remain free while the appeals process is underway.

CASE BACKGROUND

For decades Turkey has silenced reports on the armed conflict with the Kurds. Bakur was shot during the 2013-2015 peace talks between Turkish government and Kurdistan Workers’ Party’s (PKK) to end the 40 year long Kurdish-Turkish conflict. The film investigates issues of national identity, the history of the PKK, human rights, and the role of women in the conflict. The narrative is set against a backdrop of scenes from different PKK training camps in the mountainous border region between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, where the directors met confident young PKK members. The film is both honest and personal, linking individual lives with ideas of home and the right to resistance. The film expands this personal angle through political and historical evaluations by military and political PKK leaders. Bakur takes a clear political stance and describes self-determination as a universal human right.

Since 2015 the film has played at prestigious international festivals, including DOK LeipzigVisions du Réel, Trento Film Festival, Montreal World Film Festival, and brought home Best Documentary Awards from Berlin-based Festival International Signes de Nuit, Mexico International Film Festival, and Mediterranean Film Festival.

Nearly three years after its premiere, Bakur’s directors Demirel and Mavioglu are facing up to 5 years in jail on charges of “terrorist propaganda.” This is the first court case in Turkey’s recent history to put filmmakers on trial for their film.

CASE UPDATES

July 18, 2019: The Batman 2nd High Criminal Court sentences both directors to 4 years and 6 months in prison;  the initial 3-year sentence was increased by the court as required by Turkish law because the “propaganda” was made “through press and broadcast.” The verdict is made in absentia without hearing the defendants’ last statements. A travel ban is also imposed on them for “the possibility of escaping the execution” and because “there was no positive conviction that they would not commit a crime again. Both men remain free while an appeals process is underway.

May 2, 2019: Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu appear in front of the Batman 2nd Assize Court expecting to be charged under Article 7/2 of Law no. 3713 on Counter-Terrorism. Before Demirel and Mavioğlu’s attorneys are able to provide their final defense statements, the court affirms that Mavioğlu is currently under investigation by the Ankara Prosecutor’s Office. The court adjourns the case to July 18, 2019 in order to examine if both cases are related.

February 21, 2019: At the third hearing of the trial, the prosecution demands an increased punishment for both filmmakers.

October 23, 2018: The court decides to postpone Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu’s trial until February 21, 2019 because defense lawyers did not attend.  

May 29, 2018: Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu appear before the Batman 2nd Assize Court for trial. After the directors give short statements, their legal representation presents an expert opinion written by Article 19, a free expression nongovernmental organization. The Court accepts the expert opinion to evidence, and upon request, exempts Demirel and Mavioğlu from attending future hearings. The trial is then adjourned until October 23.

May 28, 2018: PEN America signs an open letter along with 50 other international human rights and arts organizations demanding that the Minister of Culture and Tourism and the Minister of Justice in Turkey drop charges against the filmmakers.

February 8, 2018: Co-director Çayan Demirel was scheduled to give his deposition at the Istanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan but decides against it, given his difficult health condition after a heart attack.

February 5, 2018: Co-director Ertuğrul Mavioğlu arrives to give a deposition only to hear after hours of waiting that the judge did not have the correct indictment.

January 18, 2018: At the first hearing in court, dozens of filmmakers come in solidarity to protest outside the courthouse. Their signs read: “Keep Films Out Of Court!” Actors, journalists, and HPD Deputy Garo Paylan endorses it: “We are here with our friends Çayan and Ertuğrul today because of this unjust judgment against the Constitution and laws, European Human Rights Court and Constitutional Court decisions.”

December 28, 2017: Co-director Çayan Demirel is called to give a deposition in the case, but the board of judges was on leave. The deposition is postponed.

April 2015: Bakur’s Turkey premier at the 34th International Istanbul Film Festival is cancelled, only a few hours before its screening, by the festival committee due to intervention from the Turkish Ministry of Culture. This intervention immediately provokes outrage among filmmakers in Turkey and many withdraw their films from the festival in solidarity with Bakur. Nevertheless, during the following months, while the peace talks were still active, the documentary could reach its audience in many cities throughout Turkey.

FREE EXPRESSION IN TURKEY

The Turkish government’s sprawling crackdown on its real and suspected opponents is in response to a coup attempt which began in July 2016 and continued throughout 2017. Using emergency powers and vaguely-worded terrorism laws, the authorities had suspended or dismissed more than 110,000 people from public-sector positions and arrested more than 60,000 people by the year’s end. Extensive use of pretrial detention meant that many suspects were held behind bars for long periods without due process. Turkish officials arrested many human rights activists, journalists, writers, and intellectuals on terrorism charges or for insulting state leaders, with more than 3,000 cases opened on the latter charge during Erdoğan’s presidency. For more information on PEN America’s advocacy on Turkey, click here.