DİCLE MÜFTÜOĞLU / CO-CHAIR OF DICLE-FIRAT JOURNALISTS ASSOCIATION
Being a Kurdish journalist in Turkey is really diffi cult… Pressures, harassment.. Let alone impositions of spying, you always have a close brush with death. For instance, like the accident(!) we encountered in the car the plain clothes police tried to push our vehicle aside while we wended our way for news in Sirnak City… I had to stay on my bed for a year due to my broken neck bone’s treatment in the accident…
Journalism in these lands is similar to the mission undertaken by the dengbêjs (singing storytellers) anciently, which are still of the same importance today. It means conveying the experiences that no one knows or hears, or instead does not want to hear, to the public. Dengbêjs fulfi lled the duty like the oral literati or journalists of the time. They recounted the events and stories they witnessed in a melodious way, travelling from village to village by the day’s conditions. Although journalism is generally defi ned as delivering the news around the world, it turns into a slightly more diffi cult task when it is about these lands – that also valid for any country where similar pressures are experienced. Nevertheless, just like the dengbêjs of their times, Kurdish journalists undertake a mission to publish & broadcast the news about the war, pain, oppression and resistance to the whole world.
I started such an adventure for the fi rst time in Istanbul. However, after the “KCK Media Operation1 “ and “the Roboski Massacre2 “, I realized that I needed to come to the highly
Kurdish populated cities and go ahead with journalism here in the southern part of Turkey. It was, of course, contradictory to journalism ethics to accept an understanding that remained silent for 13 hours after the Roboski Massacre and receiving the fi rst news from the state offi cials’ statements. Moving to Diyarbakir city (the most populated city in the southeastern part of Turkey), I felt as if I had landed on the core of the news. Not long after I worked in the region, I personally experienced how hunting news here was like putting one’s head in the lion’s mouth. On August 28, 2012,
our vehicle was pushed aside by a vehicle with police offi cers in plain clothes while we were going to Sirnak City for news (Sirnak is a town in southeaster part of Turkey with a predominantly Kurdish population border with Iraq and Syria). We had an accident as a result of our reporter, who was driving the car, lost control of the steering wheel. After the accident, I had treatment for my neck bone (C2) fracture, and I could not leave my house for about one
year. Although the health complications that occurred after the accident are still noticeable, the love of journalism has never ended. As I personally experienced such violence, it would not have been possible to do otherwise.
Since I started my career as a journalist, dozens of investigations and lawsuits were fi led against me as I was the editor-in-chief of the Dicle News Agency (DİHA) and dihaber, as well as a reporter. In addition to the ongoing trials, I was sentenced in 3 cases, which were postponed by HGB (HGB is delaying the sentence for fi ve years if the same crime is not committed). But the most remarkable challenge the journalists confront here, awkwardly, is not
the proceedings. Journalists, who were considered
dangerous by the former governments, are now entirely made the scapegoat for their enthusiasm in journalism. So much so, and regrettably, you have to conceal your identity and journalism equipment in any place you pass through many times. When you approach a checkpoint at the entrance of a city, if your profession is asked and you answer it correctly, your vehicle is searched entirely. Your
GBT (General Information Collection – Online information collection system designed by the state for its citizens) is also verified, and sometimes your entrance to the city is banned. In 2016, I went to Sirnak city to make news about the people living in tents during the curfew. I was detained three times, all the photos and images in my camera were deleted, and my entry to the area was prohibited. When I was first detained, the police took my picture.
I couldn’t understand the reason then, but after that, when I was detained for the second time by a patrolling team, it was said,
We have not met you, but your description has been reported to us. You cannot make news here without the supervision of armoured vehicle teams and the governor’s permission, and then my reporter colleague and I were threatened with death. The next time I was detained, the police said clearly and unequivocally, “People in the tents are against the state. I will not let you make news about them in this city.” Although the above examples look personal, it has become the routine of Kurdish journalists. Therefore we established the Dicle Firat Journalists Association so as to defend our rights and organize solidarity among the journalists in an environment where the freedom of the press and expression is razed to the ground. Although our association is very new, most of the journalists in most regional cities (the cities where the Kurdish population has density) become our members. Gathering information from other press and analysing our members applications, we regularly prepare monthly reports on the violations of rights in terms of press and freedom of expression.
The outcome that we are trying to announce to the world public opinion through these reports is not very heartwarming. According to the August report of our association, 63 journalists are still behind bars. In August, five journalists were detained, eight were assaulted, one was forced to be a spy, 211 news and six websites were banned.
Being banned by the security forces during the news follow-up is pervasive throughout Turkey. However, it is more dominant in the highly Kurdish populated cities. The government announced a ban on actions and activities in the cities, and the police are basing this pretext to target journalists. The police, who blocked the way of journalists with their shields many times or removed them from the area, is trying to prevent the violence they use from being announced to the world public opinion. Even though the journalists are protected by both sides in any war environments, the journalists in Turkey are either subjected to violence or prevented from doing their jobs by law enforcement.
Unfortunately, reporting the violations committed by state officials in Turkey is a reason for either arrest or investigation. In such cases, journalists stand trial for “membership in a terrorist organization” and “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” because of the news they publish & broadcast. We came across one of the most striking examples in the “helicopter torture” in Van city. The soldiers detained two citizens in a field close to their village and tortured them, and then thrown them from a helicopter.
As a result, Cemil Ugur, Adnan Bilen, reporters of the Mesopotamia Agency, who revealed the incident, and journalists Nazan Sala and Sehirban Abi were arrested. Journalists were imprisoned for six months just for doing their duties. Their cases are still in progress. Nevertheless, the outcome of the investigation against the torturers is still unknown.
Another problem encountered by journalists is the imposition of spying. On July 28 and 29, JinNews reporters Gulistan Azak and Dilan Babat were subjected to threats and imposition of undercover activities by some unspecified people who introduced themselves as members of an intelligence unit. Azak and Babat were asked to leak information about their news sources and informants, which is entirely against journalism ethics.
Despite this series of violations and infringement of the law, which I could add here a lot more, I will not cease to proclaim the truth to the world, both as a journalist and as Co-Chair of Dicle-Fırat Journalists Association. The principle of journalism demands precisely this.