Reporters Without Borders regrets that few of the 205 defendants on trial for alleged links with the armed separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) were granted a conditional release during the initial series of hearings from 2 to 13 July, contrary to the government’s promise to make preventive detention an exception.
The defendants include the well-known journalist, publisher and human rights defender Ragip Zarakolu, who was released in April.
Reporters Without Borders, which attended all the hearings, is also very disturbed by the theft of computers and other items from a vehicle rented by an international observer delegation and urges the authorities to investigate the matter thoroughly in order to identify those responsible.
After the two weeks of hearings, the court finally released Kazim Seker, the editor of the pro-Kurd daily Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) and 15 other defendants conditionally on 13 July. Seker had been held since October 2011 as part of the investigation into the Union of Communities in Kurdistan (KCK), alleged to be the PKK’s urban wing.
The 16 detainees, who also included the well-known academic Büsra Ersanli, were freed under Law 6352, which is intended to limit preventive detention and which took effect on 5 July. It is part of the so called “Third judicial reform package.”
However, Hasan Özgünes, a columnist for the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat (Free Country), Ayse Berktay, a translator and member of the pro-Kurdish party BDP and Deniz Zarakolu, Ragip Zarakolu’s son, are still being held.
Despite Law 6352’s provisions, the court provided no concrete grounds to justify the decision not to free them, simply claiming that there were strong grounds for suspecting they were connected to the armed separatists, that the gathering of evidence was still under way and that granting them a conditional release would be too risky because the judicial control mechanism might not be effective.
As a result, 124 of the 205 defendants will remain in detention pending the next series of hearings, due to be held from 1 to 9 October.
Mysterious theft from international observer vehicle
The car rented by International PEN and the International Publishers Association was broken into on 2 July outside Silivri prison, where the trial has been taking place. A professional incision was made in one of windows in order to open a door while the vehicle was parked just 15 meters from gendarmes. Most of the money inside was not removed, but the laptops and mobile phones of delegation members and documents they had prepared for a news conference were taken.
Sarah Wyatt, the head of PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, told the Reporters Without Borders correspondent that she was now better able to understand why Turkey’s human rights defenders feel so unsafe.
“It could have been just a coincidence that only our car was broken into and that the file [prepared for the news conference] was stolen,” she said. “But we have begun to wonder if we were being followed. We understand how difficult it can be for journalists and writers here to be living with this kind of paranoia every day.”
The trial of 37 lawyers detained since last autumn in connection with another component of the KCK investigation is meanwhile due to begin today.