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KURDISH journalists today vowed they would never give up chasing the truth despite the widespread terror and oppression they face every day from governments that seek to silence critical voices.
They were marking the 121st Kurdish Journalism Day which takes place each year on the anniversary of the day the first ever Kurdish newspaper, The Kurdistan, was published by Miqdad Midhed Bedirxan in Cairo on April 22 1898.
The first edition consisted of only four pages and it ran for 31 issues before closing in April 1902.
Its publication was seen as a turning point in the struggle for Kurdish language rights, however it came under intense pressure and struggled to survive.
Production of the paper was constantly forced to move and issues were published in Geneva, London and and even Folkestone, Kent, where five editions were made.
Attacks on press freedom have continued ever since.
They intensified following the 2016 failed coup attempt in Turkey following which hundreds of media outlets were closed down by decree under the state of emergency.
The 2019 Reporters Without Borders annual report on global press freedom showed that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s oppressive regime remains the world’s leading jailer of journalists.
Official figures are hard to ascertain as the Turkish state denies holding anyone in prison due to their journalism, branding all those behind bars “terrorists.”
However, journalists’ unions in the country describe Turkey as “a dungeon” with around 10,000 reporters sacked or blacklisted and many more self-censoring for fear of reprisals.
The scale of oppression is beyond the scope of this article and there are too many examples of the pressures and attacks on Kurdish news organisations and journalists.
Earlier this month Faruk Eren, Ertugrul Mavioglu, Celal Baslangic, Ihsan Caralan, Fehim Isik, Oncu Akgul and Celalettin Can were handed 15-month jail sentences for “spreading terrorist propaganda” in the Ozgur Gundem (Free Agenda) newspaper case.
They were part of a solidarity campaign with the now closed Kurdish newspaper which saw supporters act as editor-in-chief for one day.
Lawyers, human rights activists and journalists were among the 56 who took part in the campaign between May and August 2016.
Forty-nine of the 56 have been prosecuted on terrorism charges. Former editor-in-chief Huseyin Aykol remains free pending appeal after being sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on the same charges.
Oktay Candemir’s recent case highlights the routine harassment and pressures faced by Kurdish journalists simply for carrying out their job and writing the news.
The reporter from Turkey’s Van province was taken into custody on “terrorism charges” yet again at the beginning of April.
It was at least the 24th time he has been detained in just two years.
He was released on the same day following pressure from trade unions and local Kurdish politicians and supporters, but the tactic of detaining journalists for short periods is used by the authorities to silence them through fear.
Kurdish journalist Nedim Turfent, English editor of the Diha news agency, who was jailed for three years in December 2017 for reporting on Turkish military operations in the south-east has joined a hunger strike in protest at his treatment in prison.
Charges were brought against him after he published a video filmed in Turkey’s Hakkari province showing a special unit of the Turkish security forces handcuffing several dozen construction site workers and forcing them to lie down on the ground, screaming racist insults and threats.
They were heard shouting: ”Now you will feel the power of the Turks! I know your faces now. Anyone who cheats on us has to expect the consequences. What did this state do to you? Now you will feel the power of the Turks.”
He was held in solitary confinement for two years and many of his statements were allegedly extracted through torture.
Kurdish journalist Mihemed Salih Berzenci warned that the pressures have increased in the last four years, however he said that Kurdish journalists have a tradition of resistance, overcoming obstacles including bans, death threats, killing and imprisonment in their struggle to get news to the people.
Speaking to Roj News he said: “During the times of Kurdish resistances, only the newspapers were read. The newspapers were always there to inform the people,” he explained, saying journalism needs to leave a positive effect on society.
“In the past, there were only a few newspapers and journals but the role the media played in society was important. All writers and readers would actually read and they would be aware of current issues.
“Right now, online newspapers and journals are more widespread, which has resulted in very few people still reading the papers published in a printing press,” he added.
In a statement, the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) said: “Kurdish journalistic activities, which started in exile 121 years ago, have never given up chasing after truth despite the unlawful practices of oppressive regimes and governments.
“Several Kurdish journalists who set out to be the voice of Kurdish society in the darkness of the 1990s and who did not compromise the effort to tell and explain the bitter truths experienced in Turkey were massacred in the middle of the street, many of them were disappeared after being detained, several of them were punished by being imprisoned.”
**The new Journalists for Democracy in Turkey and Kurdistan initiative is set to be launched soon – please get in touch if you would like further information or to be involved**
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