KCK arrests concern human rights defenders
The most recent wave of arrests targeting journalists pushes the Kurdish issue into a tense, critical period.
By Alakbar Raufoglu for SES Türkiye -- 23/12/11
Dozens of journalists representing pro-Kurdish media were rounded up in simultaneous police operations across Turkey on Tuesday (December 20th), accused of ties to the PKK by being active members of the "propaganda wing" in the larger Kurdish umbrella organisation, Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK).
Critics say KCK trials and arrest of journalists reveal just how much the country needs sweeping judicial reform. [Reuters]
"The latest number [of the detainees] is 46. Their homes and offices were searched by police," Necati Abay, spokesperson for the Solidarity Platform for Arrested Journalists, told SES Türkiye.
The detained are employees of the Dicle, Etkin and Firat News Agencies, and the Ozgur Gundem newspaper, as well as a photo reporter for Agence France-Press and a reporter for Vatan newspaper.
Abay says the arrests push the number of journalists in Turkish jails above 100, among the highest in the world, and prove accusations that the AKP government is intolerant of dissent and trying to tame the media.
Daphne McCurdy, senior research associate at the Project on Middle East Democracy, believes this wave of arrests is just one more sign of the deteriorating human rights situation in Turkey.
"In the past couple of years, the government has harnessed vague anti-terrorism laws to crackdown on Kurdish activists, but also to stifle dissent in the country, more broadly," she told SES Türkiye.
For Halil Karaveli, a senior fellow with the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Programme, "it is difficult not to see these arrests in the KCK case as attempts to crush the Kurdish movement."
On the other hand, he draws the attention to Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc's statement in parliament on December 21st, proclaiming that Kurds are going to be granted all constitutional rights regarding their identity, culture and education.
"Why then are all these Kurdish activists, journalists etc. being arrested?" Karaveli asks.
One explanation, he says, is that the AKP government wants to appear strong and declare victory against the PKK, after which it would be able to go ahead with reforms that the deputy PM promised.
Behind the arrests there is both a "Kurdish problem" and a problem with freedom of expression, Ekrem Eddy Guzeldere, an analyst at the Istanbul office of the European Stability Initiative, says.
But there is also a problem with the legal system in Turkey: "In the case of KCK, a big box has been opened and everybody in contact with a suspect can be thrown into that box."
"That is why it was possible to first arrest politicians and party members, then groups of lawyers, and now journalists," explains Guzeldere.
With every arrest, trust between the Kurdish movement and the state and government becomes more and more eroded.
Abay says that changes to the penal code and the Anti-Terror Law are needed to prevent these sorts of mass arrests and that most of the arrested not involved in tangible crimes should be released.
"However, so far no signs that such changes will be done soon can be observed," Guzeldere argues.
For the opposition in Ankara, the latest arrests are cause for concern and "have no place in a democratic state".
Atilla Kart, CHP MP and member of the Constitution Conciliation Commission told SES Türkiye that the latest arrests go beyond journalism and highlight the lack of reform in the judiciary system.
"The AKP should understand that the solution of the Kurdish problem is not in the prisons, [it's] in the parliament - the political democratic way."
However, AKP officials continue to stick to the mantra that "nobody is in prison today for expressing their ideas."
Vahit Kiler, AKP MP told SES Türkiye that all arrests were the result of violations of the law, and not because journalists had spoken their mind.
Since 2009, over 3,500 Kurdish activists, politicians, academics and journalists have been detained in on-going trials against alleged members of KCK, which authorities accuse of being a parallel state structure tied to the PKK.