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Turkey launches criminal investigation into Kurdish journalist killed in a state massacre

TURKEY launched criminal investigations against the editor-in-chief of a now banned Kurdish newspaper today, despite his death in a state massacre in the country’s south-east in 2016.

Diyarbakir’s chief public prosecutor’s office opened proceedings against Rohat Aktas, who was the regional editor of the Azadiya Welat, Turkey’s only Kurdish-language daily newspaper.

The paper was one of hundreds shut down by presidential decree in 2016 under the state of emergency introduced after a failed military coup.

Authorities are investigating 27 journalists from the newspaper, including Mr Aktas, on suspicions of “spreading terrorist propaganda” and “membership of a terrorist organisation” – namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The 19-year-old was sent to the largely Kurdish city of Cizre in Sirnak province during military operations against the PKK.

A army curfew was in place in Cizre, which was pummelled by the Turkish forces from a cultural centre overlooking the city. 

Many residents were forced to flee their homes during the onslaught and took refuge in three basements across the city.

Mr Aktas was wounded in the attacks and was one of 178 men, women and children who were trapped in the basements for 20 days without food, water or medical supplies.

Harrowing phone calls were heard on television from people desperately pleading for help, many of them drinking their own urine to survive.

However, instead of showing mercy, Turkish security services poured petrol into the basements, burning all of the occupants alive. Of the few bodies recovered, many are reported to have come out minus their heads.

Ambulances that came to the aid of those wounded and trapped in the basements were stopped on the outskirts of the city, while medical staff involved in relief efforts were arrested and charged with aiding and abetting terrorism.

The Turkish state moved swiftly to cover its tracks, denying entry to the area to the United Nations, human rights organisations and journalists.

No independent inquiry was carried out before authorities poured concrete into the basements and flattened them. Many of the bodies were never recovered.

Mr Aktas was identified by DNA testing and his death confirmed by the police on February 13 2016.

Even beyond the grave, journalists continue to be persecuted.

Last month, DIHA news agency co-founder and Diyarbakir correspondent Kadri Kaya was sentenced to more than two years and eight months in prison – even though he had died of cancer.

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