“There is no evidence in the file to support the membership in a terrorist organization allegation. Despite this, I spent 8 months in prison and I’ve been on trial for 3 years,” journalist Aslan tells P24
ÇİÇEK TAHAOĞLU, VAN
The trial of journalists Arif Aslan and Selman Keleş on the charge of “membership of a terrorist group” that was planned to take place on 16 January 2020 was postponed to a later date when one of the defense lawyers submitted to the court a letter of excuse.
Aslan and Keleş are on trial for photographing the barricades placed in front of the municipal building in Van province.
Their trial will resume on 7 May at the 5th High Criminal Court of Van.
Speaking to P24, Aslan said: “There is no evidence in the file to support the allegation of terrorist organization membership. Despite this, I spent eight months in prison, had to sign my name at a police station once a week for a year and I have been on trial for the past three years. In the meantime I’m continuing to do journalism.”
Aslan, who is currently a reporter for Voice of America Kurdî, commented on the accusations leveled against him: “The photographs in question were also published by media outlets such as CNN Türk and Anadolu Agency. Just like those other media outlets, who took these photos for the purpose of journalism, we were also doing journalism. Every day thousands of people go to the municipality to receive public service. They should have been informed of the humongous security measures that were taken around the building.
“Because of these photographs, we are facing the allegation of ‘terrorist group membership.’ It is claimed that we sent the photographs to a terrorist group. But the case file fails to establish our ties to the organization; no evidence is presented.
“We are on trial just because we are Kurdish and we are journalists. Therefore, there isn’t really much to defend against in the courtroom. So we delivered our defense statements in Kurdish and we explained that we were journalists. If one is a dissident journalist, and on top of that, is Kurdish, one is automatically seen as a terrorist organization member. If a Kurdish journalist covers only official statements released by governmental institutions there are no problems, but when journalists cover societal developments in the region, they are generally frowned upon, even if they work for mainstream media. Journalists in the region who work for pro-government media organizations can only report on official statements by government institutions.”
Aslan said that his working hours are now spent following the trials and rights violations against his fellow journalists: “In the past, only a few journalists would be on trial. We used to follow either political cases or harassment cases. Now we follow the trials of our colleagues, friends and ourselves. It’s a strange situation to be in.
Former Dihaber news agency reporter Keleş and freelance journalist Aslan were arrested on 20 March 2017 while taking photographs of the barricades in front of Van’s municipal building. They were placed in pre-trial detention on 31 March 2017. The two journalists were accused of “membership in a terrorist organization” in the indictment. Both were released at the end of their first hearing on 21 November 2017. However, after the prosecutor objected to their release, Keleş was re-arrested in Diyarbakır on 12 December 2017 and released on 13 December 2017. Afterwards, he left Turkey and applied for asylum in Switzerland. Aslan was arrested on 31 December 2017 in Van and was freed on the same day under judicial control measures after giving his statement.