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Journalists warn of cover-up after reporters jailed for breaking story of Turkish state atrocities

JOURNALISTS in Turkey called for international solidarity today after the jailing of four reporters who last month broke the story about two Kurdish men being dropped from a military helicopter.

Mesopotamia Agency (MA) news editor Sedat Yilmaz warned that the Turkish state wanted to cover up the crimes committed by soldiers who threw agricultural workers Osman Siban and Servet Turgut from the aircraft on September 11.

The incident occurred as Turkish forces terrorised villagers in the largely Kurdish Van province, forcing them to kneel in the village square and show their identification.

The soldiers threatened to execute the villagers and burn down their homes if they dared to report the news of the helicopter incident.

Without access to phones, it took the residents two days to locate Mr Turgut, who died from his injuries after 20 days in intensive care, and Mr Siban, who remains in a critical condition.

Photos of Mr Siban’s injuries caused outrage, prompting Turkish security services to apply serious pressure on the MA office in Van, Mr Yilmaz said.

“Other than us, nobody investigated the incident,” he said. “Most media organisations presented the news as ‘allegations’ despite our statements, records and evidence.”

Some columnists had criticised the agency, others ignored the story altogether, he added.

Last week the four who broke the story — MA journalists Adnan Bilen and Cemil Ugur, Jin News reporter Seheriban Ali and journalist Nazan Sala — were detained in police raids. On Friday they were jailed by the prosecutor.

But while those who reported the atrocities are behind bars, the soldiers accused of killing Mr Turgut and injuring Mr Siban remain free.

They are being investigated by the same prosecutor who jailed the journalists, prompting accusations of a bid to cover up the incident by the Turkish state.

“You can no longer seek rights or recourse to the law in this country. Those who do are charged with ‘working against the state’ and punished,” Mr Yilmaz said. 

“The silencing of the press eliminates freedom of expression, ends the right to receive information and forces journalists to self-censor.”

Dilan Babat from Jin News said that its journalists went to the scene and investigated the incident, proving that the men had not fallen from the rocky mountain in an accident — as claimed by the authorities.

She said the agency had been targeted for exposing crimes committed by the state and showing the truth to the people, unlike other media organisations which ignored the atrocities.

Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country, with a third of the world’s total. Accurate figures are hard to ascertain, but journalist organisations estimate some 200 media workers are behind bars.

Letters can be sent to:

Adnan Bilen: Van Yuksek Guvenlikli Kapali Ceza İnfaz Kurumu/VAN, Turkey

Cemil Ugur: Van Yuksek Guvenlikli Kapali Ceza İnfaz Kurumu/VAN, Turkey

Sehriban Abi: Van T Tipi Cezaevi/VAN, Turkey

Nazan Sala: Van T Tipi Cezaevi/VAN, Turkey

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