According to PEN’s information, on 16 August 2016, the 8th Criminal Court of Istanbul ordered the interim closure of Özgür Gündem, accusing the newspaper of ‘continuously conducting propaganda for Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)’ and ‘acting as if it is a publication of the armed terror organisation’.
This is not the first time that Özgür Gündem has been raided or subject to legal action. The publication was banned between 1994 and 2011, and many of its reporters have been arrested over the years on charges of support for the PKK. Just two months ago, in June 2016, two journalists, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative and Bianet rapporteur Erol Önderoğlu and journalist Ahmet Nesin, were arrested alongside the President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) Şebnem Korur Financı for participating in a solidarity action in support of the newspaper. Court cases against many others who took part in this action are ongoing.
PEN is particularly concerned that along with Özgür Gündem‘s editor-in-chief Zana Kaya, more than 20 journalists and numerous other employees, including renowned author and activist Aslı Erdoğan, a columnist and a member of the newspaper’s advisory board (pictured above) have now been detained.
Maureen Freely, President of English PEN, commented:
With the arrest of one of the nation’s most celebrated and internationally known authors, we can see that no poet, novelist, or playwright is safe in Erdogan’s Turkey.
A full list of those detained is available on P24’s website.
Of further concern are reports that Özgür Gündem journalists and two journalists from IMC TV who were covering the raid were subject to harassment, and that the IMC TV journalists were subsequently arrested.
We are also extremely worried by reports that the homes of publisher, activist and columnist for Özgür Gündem, Ragip Zarakolu and reporters Filiz Koçali and Eren Keskin have also been raided. None of the three were at home at the time, but Zarakolu has reported that books were confiscated from the property, condemning the raid as ‘barbaric behaviour’.
Despite the interim closure of the newspaper, Özgür Gündem today released four pages with the headline ‘We will not give in’, published as a special edition of Atılım newspaper.
PEN calls for the immediate release of all those who have been detained in the wake of the raid on Özgür Gündem’s offices solely in connection with their work or peaceful exercise of their right to freedom of expression, and urges the Turkish authorities to ensure that those currently in detention have full access to legal representation.