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Journalists under pressure as government pursues military offensive against PKK

(RSF/IFEX) - 26 October 2011 - Pressure is mounting on journalists in eastern Turkey as the government intensifies its military offensive against the armed separatists of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), an offensive that is spilling over into neighbouring countries.

As well as a spate of trials and cases of prolonged detention, journalists are now the target of government directives. Journalists who cover Kurdish issues critically continue to be accused of supporting the separatists by officials who cite the war on terror as their overriding imperative. And concern is growing that the government is trying to control coverage of its offensive.

Jailed for an interview?

The Turkish judicial system continues to treat the publication of interviews with PKK members as terrorist propaganda, even if they are accompanied by commentary that stops far short of praising the PKK.

Nese Düzel, a journalist with the liberal daily Taraf, and his editor, Adnan Demir, for example, are being prosecuted for two April 2010 reports containing interviews with former PKK leaders Zübeyir Aydar and Remzi Kartal. A prosecutor asked an Istanbul court on 14 October to sentence them to seven and a half years in prison. The next hearing in their trial is to be held on 9 December.

Prosecutors at the same court are preparing to try the journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu over a report in Radikal in October 2010 that contained an interview with Murat Karayilan, one of the leaders of the Union of Kurdistan Communities (KCK), regarded as PKK's urban wing.

A seven-and-a-half-year sentence has also been requested for Recep Okuyucu, Taraf's correspondent in the southeastern province of Batman and editor of the local newspaper Batman Medya. The prosecutor's office in the nearby city of Diyarbakir claims that he connected 53,848 times to the Firat News Agency website ( www.firatnews.org ), which the authorities have blocked because they accuse it of relaying PKK propaganda. Okuyucu's defence is that, as a journalist, he has to check a wide range of websites every day.

Widespread use of pre-trial detention

Tayyip Temel, a columnist and former managing editor of the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat, was detained and taken into custody on 4 October in Diyarbakir. He was questioned for 15 hours by special prosecutors, who also questioned 35 other people suspected of belonging to the KCK.

Charges were finally presented at the end of September against two journalists with the pro-Kurdish news agency Diha (Dicle Haber Ajansi) - Kadri Kaya, its Diyarbakir bureau chief, and Erdogan Atlan, its Batman correspondent - who have been held since 15 April and will appear in court for the first time on 2 November in Diyarbakir.
They are facing a possible 20-year jail sentence on charges of collaborating with the PKK and publishing propaganda on its behalf in their coverage of Kurdish demonstrations and Turkish army operations. Atlan is also accused in connection with his coverage of the trial of a "village guard" (member of a militia that supports the army) on a charge of sexually abusing a minor in Batman. According to prosecutors, his coverage aimed to "denigrate the security forces in society's eyes."

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