Turkey’s Judiciary Continues Its Persecution of Kurdish Media


With a recent three-year of imprisonment verdict for the former editor of Turkey’s only Kurdish-language daily, the country’s judiciary continues to utilize Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law to repress freedom of speech.

Vedat Kursun, the former editor Azadiya Welat (Free Country), was sentenced to three years in prison by a High Criminal Court in Diyarbakir in a hearing on March 30. Vedat is currently on trial for 32 cases on 105 counts of “membership of a terror organization”, “membership in an illegal organization” and “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” in the papers 103 issues printed when he was editor, amounting to the unimaginable number of up to 525 years in prison. Vedat was imprisoned in January of 2009 and convicted of membership in a terrorist organization for which he received an eight-month sentence.

This verdict was handed following the issuance of two publication bans for the paper by an Istanbul High Criminal Court in just three days in late March. The month-long bans are not the first the Kurdish paper have seen – within the last four years, the paper received seven bans. The ban was handed by the court for allegedly “spreading PKK propaganda” under Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law.

Earlier, on February 9, 2010, a Diyarbakir High Criminal Court sentenced Ozan Kilinc, who took over as editor of the paper following Kursun imprisonment, to 21 years and three months in prison for “spreading PKK propaganda”. According to vercit Ozan “committed crimes on behalf of an illegal organization although he is not a member of that organization”. In late October 2009 a distributor of the paper was sentenced to 10 months in prison for “propaganda for a terrorist organization” for selling the Kurdish paper. The paper itself was issued 32 indictment on 94 different charges.

The verdicts, indictments and publication bans described above were all issued under Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law No. 3713, which took effect in 2006. Under article 6-2 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, reporters can be sentenced to three years in prison for “any dissemination of the statements and communiqués of terrorist organisations”. Under article 7 of the Law, “anyone carrying out an action in the name of an illegal organisation must be punished as a member of that organisation.” This allows the staunchly nationalistic Turkish judiciary to label journalists as terrorists. Aside from the anti-terrorism law, Article 301 of the Turkish Criminal Code imposes punishments of up to two years for “insults to the Turkish nation”, and Article 216 prohibits “incitement of hatred”. The Turkish judiciary’s definition of those articles includes quoting PKK leaders or mentioning the organization’s demands.

Under the Anti-Terrorism Law, pro-Kurdish publications in Turkish such the daily Gasunluk and the weekly Ozgur Ortam have been temporarily banned as well, and their websites blocked. Other pro Kurdish papers have been closed, among them Demokratik Acilim, Ulkede Ozgur Gundem, Gundem, Guncel and Gercek Demokras.

Turkey’s “Kurdish Initiative” is undermined by its laws and its nationalistic judiciary. The government made a necessary and welcomed decision by lifting the ban on publishing in the Kurdish language in November of last year. However, this move is meaningless if Kurdish issues cannot be discussed in Turkey without fear of indictments and prison terms.