Istanbul’s Chief Public Prosecutor’s office has issued a detention warrant for veteran journalist Cengiz Çandar on the charge of praising crime and criminals over a 2017 tweet mourning the death of a woman killed while fighting Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants in northern Syria, according to Turkish media reports on Tuesday.
Ayşe Deniz Karacagil was killed in northern Syria in May 2017 while fighting alongside the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militant group that spearheaded the fight against the self-proclaimed caliphate of ISIL. Karacagil became famous in Turkey after standing trial on terror charges for wearing a red neck scarf during the countrywide anti-government protests in 2013 that erupted over plans to demolish Gezi Park in the Taksim neighbourhood of İstanbul.
Upon Karacagil’s death, Çandar tweeted, “The girl wearing red scarf [Karacagil], the angel of Gezi with the most beautiful smile warming our hearts, has fallen before Raqqa and risen to the stars, once again searing our hearts.”
An investigation was launched two years after the tweet, which culminated in a court case in July 2020. The first hearing of the trial in which Çandar faces the charge of praising crime and criminals was held in İstanbul on Monday.
Ankara maintains that the YPG is indistinguishable from Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK); hence, Karacagil’s association with the YPG is deemed a “crime” by the country’s judiciary.
According to the Birgün daily, Çandar, who has been living in Sweden for the last five years, said he found it highly inappropriate for the prosecutor’s office to issue a detention warrant since he is not hiding, saying he would comply with a summons.
“It is incredulous that the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office had failed to find me, while a notification about land dispute lawsuit going on in Bursa can reach me,” Çandar said.
One of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, Turkey was ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). RSF describes Turkey as “the world’s biggest jailer of professional journalists.”
Government pressure on independent journalists and news outlets in Turkey increased in the aftermath of a failed coup in July 2016 following which the AKP government launched a massive crackdown on non-loyalist citizens under the pretext of an anti-coup fight.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 175 Turkish journalists are behind bars and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.