“If we wanted to do, we could kill you right here and then say you were killed during the incidents. No one would be able to prove otherwise.”
That’s what police officers told journalist Nedim Türfent when they arrested him more than 18 months ago.
During the fourth hearing in his trial in the southeastern province of Hakkari on Friday 17 Nov, Türfent, a local correspondent and English news editor for the Dicle News Agency, informed the court about the abusive treatment he had suffered at the hands of authorities. The case had already attracted attention after 19 of 20 witnesses confessed to testifying against Türfent under torture and duress.
Türfent’s description of overt police threats has added more insult to injury in a case that lacks any evidence other than fallacious testimonies. “Don’t worry, we’re going to prepare such a file on you that you’ll be in for at least 20 years. You won’t be getting out anytime soon,” Türfent quoted police as saying during his hearing. The journalist faces up to 22.5 years in prison on charges of “membership in a terrorist organisation” and “conducting propaganda.” His 18 months in detention could be extended further in the next hearing on 15 Dec.
The fierce crackdown on Turkey’s mainstream media has been covered widely. But this has also created a certain “butterfly effect.” As the government dares to imprison renowned journalists in the “west” – Istanbul – the knock-on effect is much greater for Kurdish journalists in the east as they are sent back in time to face the dark spectres of the 1990s: intimidation, death threats, detentions and ill-treatment. The retaliation against Türfent for his journalistic work in his hometown of Yüksekova is one compelling example.
Yüksekova – Gever to the Kurdish locals – sits on a small flat plain that is surrounded by majestic and jagged peaks that pierce the sky. Located in Hakkari, which borders Iraq and Iran, it is the largest urban area in the country’s deprived southeastern corner. Toughened by the landscape, people from Gever are known to be self-resilient, proud and stubbornly uncompromising against any type of pressure – be it extreme weather or government crackdown. The same can be said for Türfent’s journalism. His bold coverage of the military siege and crackdown in the town in March-April 2016 made him a target.
Through months of military siege and a state of emergency, local reporters have braved authorities to report on killings, destruction and atrocities that would have been concealed if not for the journalists’ work. But ultimately, the question goes beyond freedom of expression; now, it is the very essence of truth that is at stake.
“Understanding the causes and the results of the Nedim Türfent case means understanding the necessity of freedom for journalists,” said Boltan, demanding more support for Kurdish journalists. “The violations committed here are the source of the pressure on the mainstream media.”