On 20 December 2021, ARTICLE 19 submitted an expert opinion to the defence lawyers regarding the case of five journalists from Mezopotamya News Agency (MA), who have been prosecuted for terrorism offences in Turkey before the Van 5th Assize Court. In our expert opinion, we argue that the provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code, under which the journalists are charged, do not comply with international and European standards on freedom of expression. If the journalists were to be convicted under these provisions, their convictions would equally constitute an unnecessary interference with the right to freedom of expression.
In September 2020, Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) uncovered and reported on claims that two Kurdish villagers, previously detained during a military operation, were thrown from a military helicopter. One of them subsequently died after 20 days in a coma. MA reporters Cemil Uğur and Adnan Bilen, JinNews reporter Şehriban Abi and former MA editor Nazan Sala were charged in October 2020 with “membership to a terrorist organisation” under Article 314(2) of the Turkish Criminal Code for their reports on the incident. The prosecution claims that the journalists are members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (the PKK) and form a part of the PKK’s Press Committee, the institution that – according to the law enforcement agency – “is responsible for carrying out and maintaining the terrorist organisation’s propaganda and agitation activities as well as the organisation and execution of all ideological works of the terrorist organisation.”
In the expert opinion, ARTICLE 19 submits that:
- Provisions of the Turkish Criminal Code and the Counter-Terrorism Law, used in charges against five journalists, do not meet the requirements of international and European freedom of expression standards. They have already been extensively criticised by international and regional human rights bodies as well as civil society, such as the UN Human Rights Committee, the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission), the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe or the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights.
- A thorough analysis of the materials and evidence shows no justification for deeming five journalists to be members of the PKK organisation, be it its Press Committee or otherwise. They have been charged for possessing photographs, videos, newspapers, books and notes which relate to the PKK and their associated narrative, or for interviewing individuals considered to be affiliated with the PKK. However, journalists would presumably need to be informed on a matter of public interest in order to report on it and the Prosecution has not offered enough evidence to support their claim that these journalists are actually members of a terrorist organisation.
- None of the publications by five journalists could be argued to amount to incitement to violence while they should not be held accountable for the mere possession in their homes of books and newspapers that may be critical of the Turkish security forces and government or seen to be pro-Kurdish. In this regard, ARTICLE 19 noted that meeting with and interviewing individuals for the purposes of news reports forms part of a journalist’s activity, regardless of how disagreeable the subject matter might be.
Read the full submission in English.