Council of Europe discusses the arrest of journalists in Van

The journalists in question documented how two civilians were thrown from a military helicopter after getting arrested by Turkish soldiers.

The Council of Europe Platform to promote the protection of journalism and safety of journalists released a statement on the arrest of four journalists from the Kurdish press after their exposure of the brutal torture suffered by two civilians in the hands of Turkish soldiers in Van province. The journalists in question documented how two civilians were thrown from a military helicopter after getting arrested by Turkish soldiers.

On 5 October 2020, police in the Turkish province of Van raided the local offices of the Mezopotamya Agency (MA) and the houses of four journalists. The early morning raids led to the detention of MA reporters Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur. Two media workers for Jinnews, reporter Şehriban Abi and journalist Nazan Sala, were also detained. MA reported that police seized cameras and other technical journalistic equipment during the searches on their homes.

The raid allegedly stemmed from MA’s reporting on alleged human rights abuses by soldiers in Van, a Kurdish majority province in the east of the country. Cemil Uğur had followed the case closely for weeks and revealed that medical documents and reports showed that the soldiers had dropped two civilians from a helicopter, which led to the death of one person.

Lawyers for the victim’s family have lodged criminal complaints of deliberate injury", "attempt to kill deliberately", "misconduct" and "torture". The Governor's Office of Van announced that a legal and administrative investigation had been launched. On 1st October, the Public Prosecutor’s Office imposed a publication and broadcasting ban on the incident.

Beginning on 16 September, Uğur began to reveal information in MA from hospital reports and documents signed by a brain and neurosurgery specialist doctor which confirmed claims of torture and that the civilians had fallen from “a high place”.

Uğur reported that the documents verified claims that the pair were thrown from a helicopter. On 7 October, the journalists’ detention period was extended for another four days, according to MA. On 8 October, the four journalists were referred to court by the prosecutor's office to be arrested on charge of "membership of a terrorist organisation.".

On 9 October, the court has ruled they shall be arrested.

This platform is a public space to facilitate the compilation, processing and dissemination of information on serious concerns about media freedom and safety of journalists in Council of Europe member States, as guaranteed by Art. 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

It aims to improve the protection of journalists, better address threats and violence against media professionals and foster early warning mechanisms and response capacity within the Council of Europe.

The platform enables the Council of Europe to be alerted on time, in a more systematic way and to take timely and coordinated action when necessary. It helps the Organisation identify trends and propose adequate policy responses in the field of media freedom.