Dozens of Kurdish journalists face terrorism charges in Turkey
The biggest media trial in Turkey's history has begun in what human rights groups say is an attempt by the government to intimidate the press and punish pro-Kurdish activists.
A total of 44 Kurdish journalists appeared in court in Istanbul on various terrorism charges, including accusations that they have supported the KCK, an illegal pan-Kurdish movement that includes the PKK, the armed Kurdistan Workers' party. Of those, 36 have been in pre-trial detention since December.
The hearing was delayed after the defendants made an attempt to defend themselves in Kurdish, their mother language, a request denied by the judge. Twelve of the defendants are said to have led a terrorist organisation and 32 are accused of being members of a terrorist organisation. Prosecutors have demanded prison sentences ranging from seven and a half to 22 and a half years.
The contentious case comes amid an escalation of Turkey's 28-year-old Kurdish insurgency, with renewed clashes between the PKK and Turkish security forces. Over the past 14 months, the country has seen its worst violence since the PKK's leader, Abdullah Öcalan, was captured and jailed in 1999. Since June 2011, at least 708 people have been killed, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The victims include 405 PKK fighters, 209 soldiers and police, and 84 civilians, it said.
Meanwhile, a peaceful initiative by Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and his ruling Justice and Development party (AKP) to improve Kurdish rights has fizzled out. Instead, thousands of non-violent Kurdish politicians and sympathisers have been arrested and charged with terrorism offences. The journalists are the latest group to go on trial, activists say.
"This is bad for Turkey's international image," said Hüseyin Bagci, of Ankara's Middle East Technical University's international relations department. Bagci described Erdogan's Kurdish political initiative – unpopular with many Turks – as dead, but said the government remained divided over how to deal with the worsening insurgency, with no clear strategy.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised the Turkish government for the prosecution of pro-Kurdish politicians, activists and journalists who exercise their right to freedom of expression. (...)