Two journalists from pro-Kurdish news agencies in eastern Turkey city of Van were arrested over social media posts which are considered as “terrorist propaganda” and “insulting the president.” Idris Yılmaz from Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and Vildan Atmaca from Women’s News Agency (JİNHA) were detained by the police at Erciş District of Van on Friday and arrested by court on Saturday. The journalists are accused of being pro-Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey. Yılmaz is reported injured as he was hurt in the ribs while being detained by the police and denied proper medical attention.
The journalists were detained as a part of a larger group on Friday. Who exactly were in this group which included 10 journalists according to reports is not clear. Some local reports, including the pro-PKK Firat News Agency (ANF) stated the journalists were covering clashes between the police and Kurdish rebels but Yılmaz’s testimony says they were drinking tea at a cafe as a group of journalists from DİHA, VAN TV and IMC TV when police approached him and said he will be detained for “producing biased news.” Other journalists did not want to give up their friend which ended in police shooting in the air to disperse the crowd around and detaining more people (see the video in the first hyperlink). Other detainees were released on Saturday but Yılmaz and Atmaca were transfered to the court with a demand of arrest from the prosecutor.
According to police, prosecutor’s office and court documents CPJ inspected, both journalists are questioned about social media posts; some of which are years old and others not owned.
Yılmaz is accused of terrorism propaganda as being the owner of a news source called Erciş Haberi (Erciş News) but he stated that he has no ties to it and as far as he knows it is a Facebook group that features posts from numerous users. According to visuals featured in the testimony document, Facebook lists the name İdris Yılmaz as the Chief Editor of Erciş Haberi and ercishaberi.com as the media organ’s website. Yılmaz said he used to have a DİHA subscriber news website with the same name at the mentioned address but it was inactive for months and he knows neither who runs the Facebook group nor who put his name there. Yılmaz is also asked about some pro-PKK posts from his own Facebook account and but he denied making propaganda of the organization. Yılmaz has also shared a caricature of President Pecep Tayyip Erdoğan defecating on Turkey. Yılmaz did not comment on that question at the police questioning and argued it is not Erdoğan in the caricature when asked about it again at the prosecutor’s office.
Atmaca asked the authorities some of the posts she is questioned about are two years old and why is she being questioned about them now when detained for a totally different reason. Atmaca was asked about sharing posts such as the picture of a woman YPG (PKK’s Syrian wing) guerrilla, a woman Kurdish journalist noted as a PKK member and a quote of convicted PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. She was also asked about two tweets from October 14, 2015 in which she accuses the police and the police chief firing on the people of Erciş with real bullets. Atmaca denied accusations of PKK propaganda and said she does not remember the incident regarding the tweets but she had no intention of provoking the people as it was mentioned in the question.
Erciş Court of Penal Peace arrested Yılmaz and Atmaca with “a strong suspicion” that they made terrorism propaganda and Yılmaz additionally insulted the president.