Turkey targets Kurdish journalists for reporting on helicopter drop of villagers

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Turkish police detained four journalists from the Kurdish Mezopotamya Agency and Jinnews outlets on Tuesday in midnight raids in the eastern province of Van.

Mezopotamya reported that the detained journalists had worked on a news story about soldiers throwing two villagers off a military helicopter.

Police confiscated cameras and memory cards of reporters Adnan Bilen, Cemil Uğur, Şehriban Abi and Nazan Sala in the raids. Police erased footage of the raids from another reporter’s camera, and the reporters were issued a restriction against seeing their lawyers for 24 hours.

According to the agencies’ reports, first published on Sept. 13, two villagers had disappeared after being taken into custody in a helicopter in Van’s Çatak district, only to turn up in a hospital ICU two days later. The men were heavily bruised and had several wounds, despite being injury free upon their detention. Their families told Mezopotamya that they had been thrown off a helicopter.

On Sept. 19, the two men’s families told Mezopotamya that they had received death threats by soldiers to stay silent. The next day, a hospital report was issued, describing injuries consistent with falling from a height, and supporting the claims of a helicopter drop.

The Van Governorate had issued a statement, saying Turgut had attempted to run away and while running, fell off a cliff. Mezopotamya reporters visited the area, recording images that showed swathes of land without any cliffs around.

One of the villagers, Servet Turgut, died after ten more days in the ICU, on Sept. 30. A wake his family had organised was raided by the police, who harassed mourners including a pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Hüda Kaya.

Following the wake, the police stopped Mezopotamya reporters from recording video during a press statement held by several Kurdish politicians. They also asked HDP deputy Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu to stop the reporters, to which he said he would not.

On the same day, the agency’s website was banned in Turkey, alongside several other outlets.

Several journalists’ unions, including the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS) Diyarbakır chapter, Tigris Euphrates Journalists Association (DFG), and Mesopotamia Women Journalists Platform (MKGP), condemned the detention of the Mezopotamya journalists.

Mahmut Oral from TGS Diyarbakır said the helicopter drop incident had wounded the public’s conscience, and reporting on it had been crucial in bringing the matter to light. The house raids aimed to “terrorise journalists,” Oral said.

“Pro-government media and politicians could not refute the report, so they targeted our journalist friends,” MKGP Spokeswoman Ayşe Güney said. “Journalism is not a crime.”

“The first thing to do in similar circumstances is to silence the media,” DFG Co-chair Serdar Altan said, adding that Mezopotamya had reported on several exclusive stories in recent months, focusing on Kurdish-majority regions in Turkey.

Brother of Servet Turgut, Naif Turgut, said the reporters had “worked to bring to light the injustice and tyranny we endured.”

On Sept. 24, speaking to a pro-government television, Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu accused “one of those people” of being in league with persons of interest he called terrorists that security forces had been pursuing at the time, news website Sendika reported.

“The terrorists got out of a house and went there. Their contacts were discovered in that house,” Soylu said. According to the minister, soldiers saw a man throwing something into the river nearby, and started to pursue him. The man, who the minister did not identify further, fell from a cliff in the pursuit, he said.

Soylu said two men were taken into the helicopter to be taken to a hospital, but only one was detained. “This is the deal: A person who killed three of our soldiers who were martyred there was just there, 30, 40, 50 metres from there. Because it was a rural area. They ran away.”

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