"This trial is clearly political" ... investigative journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu.

"This trial is clearly political" ... investigative journalist Ertugrul Mavioglu. Photo: Supplied

ISTANBUL: Dozens of journalists have gone on trial in Turkey accused of terrorism for backing an illegal Kurdish group.

''This trial is clearly political,'' said Ertugrul Mavioglu, an investigative journalist whose terrorism charges for interviewing Murat Karayilan, a member of the umbrella group KCK - which includes the Kurdistan Workers' party - were dropped in December last year.

''The government wants to set an example,'' he said. ''Journalists are being told, 'There are limits on what you are allowed to say'.''

Of the 44 journalists on trial, 36 have been in detention since December. Human rights groups have repeatedly criticised the Turkish government for the prosecution of pro-Kurdish politicians and activists, and journalists who report their views.

Andrew Gardner, Turkey researcher at Amnesty International, said: ''This prosecution forms a pattern [in Turkey] where critical writing, political speeches and participation at peaceful demonstrations are used as evidence of terrorism offences.''

More than 100 journalists are in jail in Turkey, more than in Iran or China, many of whom work for Kurdish media outlets. About 800 more face charges and numerous journalists have been fired or have had to leave their jobs because of pressure from the government.

In a recent speech, the Minister of the Interior, Idris Naim Sahin, compared writers and journalists to Kurdistan Workers' party fighters, saying there was ''no difference between the bullets fired in [the Kurdish south-east of Turkey] and the articles written in Ankara''.

Meral Danis Bektas, a lawyer, said Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was openly threatening journalists. ''This attitude creates a terrible climate for press freedom.''

Mr Mavioglu suggested it was becoming increasingly difficult for Turkish journalists to do a good job. ''You can write anything, but only under constant threats of unemployment, fines, arrest or worse.''

The government said none of the journalists on trial had been arrested for their work, but because of terrorist offences. However, the 800-page indictment includes a charge of ''denigrating the state'' against one journalist who wrote about sexual harassment at Turkish Airlines.

Ozlem Agus, a reporter for the pro-Kurdish Tigris News Agency, is standing trial for exposing the sexual abuse of minors in jail. Other offending articles include reports on casualties in the conflicts between the Kurdistan Workers' party and Turkish forces.

Guardian News & Media