3 October 2013 – RAN 31/13
While PEN International welcomes the release pending trial of Dicle News Agency editor Fatma Koçak, it is worried 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 International calls for the immediate release of all 22 detained journalists pending completion of their trial, and the dropping of all charges against anyone accused of involvement in the KCK press wing which relate solely to their peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression and association.
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Please send appeals IMMEDIATELY:
- 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 their legitimate, 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.
Minister of Justice
Mr Sadullah Ergin
Ministry of Justice
Fax: +90 312 419 3370
sadullahergin [at] adalet.gov [dot] tr
Prime Minister of Turkey
Mr Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Başbakanlık Merkez Bina
receptayyip.erdogan [at] basbakanlik.gov [dot] tr
President Abdullah Gül
TC Cumhurbaşkanlığı Genel Sekreterliği
cumhurbaskanligi [at] tccb.gov [dot] tr
Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Turkey in your country if possible.
**Please contact this office if sending appeals after 28 October 2013, which is the start-date set for the next trial session**
At 5:00 a.m. on 20 December 2011, the Anti-Terror Unit of the Istanbul Police Force arrested 44 Kurdish and pro-Kurdish journalists as part of a coordinated city-wide 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 pre-trial detention after questioning on 24 December 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 12 September 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; amongst 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 18 November 2012, and is seen to have been instrumental in the passing of a new law which allows Kurdish defendants to speak their mother tongue in court. At the first hearing, which began on 22 April 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 for defendants “[t]o have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court”.
There has been a steady stream of releases in the trial since then, including the release 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 28 October 2013, and will run until 1 December 2013.