Kurdish press in Turkey walk a fine line - report

Journalists at the pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency cover a mixture of news on politics, human rights and general news with a focus on stories often left untold by other outlets, facing threat of arrest as they do, Public Radio International reported on Tuesday.

“It’s not easy being a journalist in Turkey where accusations of colluding with a terrorist organization is only a by line away,” Durrie Bouscaren wrote for PRI’s The World. “Being Kurdish only deepens the pressure.”

Mezopotamya, home to some 100 journalists in eight bureaus, has been active for three years, during which all journalists working for the agency faced detention, the head of its Istanbul bureau Sadık Topaloğlu said.

Kurdish media throughout the country reprint Mezopotamya’s stories, and the agency plays a crucial role as an alternative voice in an “increasingly homogenous media landscape”, Bouscaren said.

Mezopotamya often finds itself at odds with the official government narrative on the Kurdish conflict, and is frequently accused of news coverage that benefits the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an act punishable by several years in prison under Turkey’s extensive anti-terror laws.

Making propaganda, a loosely defined term in itself, “in a manner that would encourage a terrorist organisation to resort to violence” is punishable by up to five years in prison, which can be doubled if the crime is committed via the media, according to Turkey’s Anti-terror Act.

The agency’s website is occasionally placed under access bans by judges. This has happened 29 times to date, Bouscaren noted. According to Topaloğlu, the agency is targeted more frequently and faces more pressure “because it exposes what the government doesn’t want seen”.

One prominent example was the agency’s coverage of an incident in September when two villagers in the eastern Van province were thrown off a military helicopter, according to witness reports.

One of the villagers died after several weeks in the intensive care unit, and the other suffered extensive injuries.

Four reporters, Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur from Mezopotamya and Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala from the women-focused Kurdish outlet Jinnews, were arrested over their continued coverage of the alleged torture incident, facing accusations of “reporting on societal events against the interests of the state”.

The situation has gotten worse since 2015, when a peace process with the PKK collapsed. There has been a recent dive as well, with Turkey’s military operations in northern Iraq resulting in the death of 13 military and police personnel held prisoner by the PKK on Feb. 13. 

Some reporters told Bouscaren about the difficulty of staying neutral when the state sees one as the enemy.

“Sometimes, we pretend that we’re from a Turkish media outlet, so we won’t get arrested or beaten,” reporter Semra Turan said.