Turkey should drop ‘trumped up’ terror charges in trials of two journalists – CPJ

Turkish authorities should drop all charges against two journalists who worked for Kurdish news outlets and release them from prison, New York-based advocacy group the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said ahead of their trials this week.

Rawin Sterk, a reporter at the Iraqi Kurdish news outlet Rudaw, is due to appear in a Turkish court on Wednesday on charges of membership of a terrorist organisation after being held in pre-trial detention since February.

The trial of photographer Selman Keleş, who was working for the now-shuttered Dicle News Agency, will continue with another court hearing on Thursday. Keleş is facing the same charges as Sterk in a case that began in 2017, the CPJ said on Monday.

Turkey “should drop all charges against journalists Rawin Sterk and Selman Keleş, release Sterk from prison, and cease filing bogus terrorism charges against the press,” the CPJ said in a statement.

Both journalists are facing up to 10 years in prison for alleged membership of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), an outlawed group that has been battling for Kurdish autonomy in Turkey since the 1980s.

The PKK, which says it is in a legitimate struggle on behalf of the Kurds, is designated as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The journalists “should never have faced trumped-up terrorism charges for their work,” said CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Gulnoza Said, adding that the charges have been hanging over the journalists for years “thanks to Turkey’s slow and unjust legal system”.

Sterk was detained in late February while covering the movement of Syrian refugees at Turkey’s western border, and was arrested to face charges of terrorist propaganda a week later. The prosecution changed the charges against Sterk to membership of the PKK, citing photographs and videos he had on his electronic devices, his social media posts, and his employment at Rudaw as evidence.

Keleş was detained in March 2017, while he was working on a story he was following in the eastern Van province, on suspicion that he was scouting for a terrorist attack. He was arrested and spent eight months in pre-trial detention but was released in the first hearing of his case.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), there are currently 93 journalists in Turkey’s prisons. Fifty-two journalists were arrested in the first six months of 2020 and 19 were sentenced to jail terms, RSF said.