06 July 2023 – The authorities of Türkiye should immediately and unconditionally free prominent journalist, writer, and PEN Türkiye member Merdan Yanardağ and drop all charges against him, PEN International said today. The organisation calls once again on the authorities to stop using overbroad anti-terrorism laws to silence writers and journalists who peacefully express their views.
Merdan Yanardağ, editor-in-chief of TELE 1 broadcaster, was detained in Istanbul on 26 June 2023 by counterterrorism officers after the public prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the 20 June broadcast of TELE 1. Yanardağ was formally arrested on 27 June on charges of ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ and ‘praising crime and a criminal’. He is currently being held in Silivri prison, near Istanbul. A request for release pending trial was denied by the court on 5 July on the grounds that Yanardağ was considered a flight risk.
In the said broadcast , Yanardağ spoke about the peace process between the Turkish government and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which broke down in July 2015. Yanardağ notably commented on the prison conditions of PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan, stating that his solidarity confinement, in place since 2016, should be lifted. Türkiye’s broadcast regulator RTÜK subsequently launched an investigation into TELE1 over Yanardağ’s remarks. Shortly before his arrest, Yanardağ said his words had been taken out of context and were not meant to praise Öcalan. On 29 June, PEN Türkiye issued a statement urging Yanardağ’s immediate release.
Once again, the Turkish authorities are using overbroad counter-terrorism laws to punish peaceful views. Journalists should be able to carry out their work freely, without fear of reprisal. We stand with PEN Türkiye member MerdanYanardağ and call for his immediate and unconditional release. All charges against him must be dropped. said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Merdan Yanardağ, born on 24 February 1961, is a prominent journalist, writer, and member of PEN Türkiye. He is the editor-in-chief of TELE1, one of the few remaining news outlets critical of the Turkish authorities. Over the past two decades, Türkiye’s government has captured over 90% of the media landscape and has been using RTÜK to routinely issue fines as a tool to silence critical media. TELE1 has already been fined four times in 2023 for Yanardağ’s statements. The government’s grip on mainstream media has been backed by a crackdown on independent media. At least 47 journalists were behind bars when the general elections took place in May 2023.
PEN International has repeatedly condemned the Turkish authorities’ use of overbroad counter-terrorism laws to target dissenting views. The organisation calls on the authorities to take all necessary steps to guarantee freedom of expression online and offline, and to align Türkiye’s counter-terrorism laws with international standards.
Aurélia Dondo| Head of Europe and Central Asia Region
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