While PEN International welcomes the release pending trial of Dicle News Agency editor Fatma Koçak, we are concerned by the continuing detention of 22 journalists being tried as part of the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK) “Press Wing.” The trial, which implicates 46 journalists in total (24 of whom have been released pending trial) as belonging to the urban limb of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been widely described by observers as a crackdown on the Kurdish and pro-Kurdish press in Turkey. PEN calls for the immediate release of all 22 detained journalists pending completion of their trial, and for all charges against anyone accused of involvement in the KCK press wing, which relate solely to the peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association, to be dropped.

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Background Information

At 5:00 a.m. on December 20, 2011, the Anti-Terror Unit of the Istanbul Police Force arrested 44 Kurdish and pro-Kurdish journalists as part of a coordinated citywide operation. Speaking to the media, security forces described these 44 journalists as the KCK “propaganda” or “press wing.” Thirty-six of these journalists were placed under pretrial detention after questioning on December 24, 2011, with the remaining eight released pending trial. Two other journalists were arrested and released pending trial in subsequent weeks as part of the same investigation, bringing the total number being tried up to 46.

At the time, the arrests were perceived by many in Turkey as the latest wave in a nationwide crackdown against Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civilians, most if not all of whom have no links to terrorism or the plotting of violent acts. This operation, dubbed the KCK investigation, has been underway since 2009, targeting intellectuals, politicians, lawyers, journalists, academics, and writers with sympathies for the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).

According to the Turkish authorities, the KCK is the alleged political front for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been engaged in armed conflict with the Turkish state since 1984. Thousands of people are believed to be on trial as part of the ongoing KCK investigation. Defendants include a large number of writers, journalists, academics, and other literary professionals of concern to PEN International, many of whom could face lengthy prison sentences if convicted.

The first hearing of the KCK “press wing," as they were named in the indictment, commenced nine months later, on September 12, 2012. During the hearing, the journalists asked to defend themselves in Kurdish, a request that was rejected by the court. Shortly afterwards, detained KCK suspects, including those charged with belonging to the KCK “press wing,” announced a hunger strike; among their stated demands were the right to defend themselves in their mother tongue (Kurdish), mother tongue education, and improved conditions for imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Over 700 people participated in the 68-day hunger strike, which ended on November 18, 2012, and is seen to have been instrumental in the passing of a new law that allows Kurdish defendants to speak their mother tongue in court. At the first hearing, which began on April 22, 2013, defendants in the KCK “press wing” trial were allowed to defend themselves in Kurdish for the first time, although defendants have since expressed resentment at having to pay for their translators themselves. Article 14.3(f) of the ICCPR provides for the right of defendants “[t]o have the free assistance of an interpreter if [they] cannot understand or speak the language used in court.”

There has been a steady stream of releases in the trial since then, including that of Zeynep Kuray in April 2013, with Friday’s hearing bringing the total number of detained journalists down to 22. The next hearing of the trial is scheduled for October 28, 2013, and will run until December 1, 2013.

Write A Letter

  • Expressing alarm at the continued detention of 22 journalists and the excessive length of the trial process;
  • Calling for their immediate release pending completion of their trial;
  • Expressing concern that some or all of the 46 journalists are being prosecuted solely for activities which relate to the legitimate and peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, to which Turkey is a state party.

Send Your Letter To

Mr Sadullah Ergin
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
06669 Kızılay
Ankara
Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 3370
Email: sadullahergin@adalet.gov.tr

Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Prime Minister of Turkey
Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
Vekaletler Caddesi
06573 Kızılay
Ankara
Turkey
Email: receptayyip.erdogan@basbakanlik.gov.tr

President Abdullah Gül
TC Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği
06689 Çankaya
Ankara
Turkey
Email: cumhurbaskanligi@tccb.gov.tr

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Turkey in your country if possible.

**Please contact PEN if sending appeals after October 28, 2013, which is the start-date set for the next trial session**