“Helicopter torture” case: four journalists released from prison

In the trial over the reporting of the "helicopter torture" of two Kurdish civilians, the court in Van has lifted the arrest warrants against four accused journalists. The trial will be continued in July.

Journalists charged with "anti-state reporting" and alleged PKK membership in Van have been released from pre-trial detention. At the start of the trial on Friday, the 5th Heavy Penal Court cancelled the arrest warrant for MA correspondents Adnan Bilen and Cemil Uğur, JinNews correspondent Şehriban Abi and freelance journalist Nazan Sala. Also charged in the case is MA reporter Zeynep Durgut. All five are charged with their reporting in the case of two villagers, Osman Şiban (50) and Servet Turgut (55), who were abducted, tortured and pushed out of a helicopter by the Turkish military near the Çatak district in September. While Şiban will probably be scarred for the rest of his life by the torture he experienced, Servet Turgut died on September 30, 2020 after 20 days in a coma.

The accusations against the defendants are outrageous. The trial is apparently solely about putting pressure on the last bastion of the free press because the defendants exposed the so-called helicopter torture. Thus, the prosecution claims that the defendants are in fact not journalists at all because they do not have yellow press cards. Who is a journalist in Turkey and who is not is determined solely by the president. Until July 2018, media professionals still received official ID cards from the General Directorate of Press and Information. However, this authority was dissolved as part of the restructuring of the Turkish government system, and its powers were transferred to the Communications Presidency at the Office of the President of the Republic. As a result, thousands of press cards that had been issued before were declared invalid. The measure also affected foreign journalists. It is almost impossible for the Kurdish media, which are already stigmatized as the "terror press," to obtain ID cards for their members.

In addition, the public prosecutor's office attributes the "affiliation of the alleged journalists with the terrorist organization" to the fact that the defendants do not report on "sporting events or the world of stars and starlets," but write their articles solely on social issues. Moreover, they were stated to be working for "entities" whose contributions were blocked by courts from time to time. "I guess the prosecution seems to expect documentaries about penguins. I'm sorry, but there are no penguins in Van," Resul Tamur, the defense lawyer of Adnan Bilen, opined. The lawyer called the indictment a "contentless document", written in a "copy-paste procedure".

Lawyer Veysel Ok, who is also co-chair of the Media and Law Studies Association (MLSA), stressed that the essence of the indictment was not even raised. "These journalists have been in prison for half a year because they reported on a serious case of torture. It was for this motivation, after all, that the prosecutor had their workplaces searched, alleged evidence gathered and them imprisoned. Why is torture concealed in the indictment?", Ok asked the court. He did not receive an answer. The trial will continue on July 2.