Rights organizations defend jailed Turkish filmmakers facing up to 5 years in prison

Çayan Demirel and Ertuğrul Mavioğlu

SEENPM joined more than 40 human rights, film and cultural organizations in defense of imprisoned Turkish filmmakers Cayan Demirel and Ertugrul Mavioglu for their 2015 documentary ‘Bakur’ (North).

The feature-length documentary follows the lives of three members of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) during the ceasefire between the party and the Turkish government in place in 2013.

“We, the undersigned cultural and human rights organizations, call upon the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Batman to drop charges immediately against filmmakers Cayan Demirel and Ertugrul Mavioglu and to cease efforts to criminalize the film and its makers,” the letter dated May 28 read as reported by Reporters Without Borders, one of the signatories.

Bakur does not incite discrimination, hostility or violence, but rather documents an attempt to reach a peace agreement after a decades-long conflict between the PKK and the Turkish government,” the letter states.

Demirel and Mavioglu were able to give their defenses in front of a Batman court on Tuesday on charges of “promoting terrorism” for their documentary, however court proceedings were adjourned until October 23 to further review their case.

If convicted in October, the already-jailed filmmakers face up to five years in prison.

“Journalism is not a crime to make cinematography,” Mavioglu said in his defense in front of the Batman judge as reported by Turkish state news agency Evrensel. “We will continue to defend and defend peace, not death with Bakur.”

Bakur was due to be screened at the Istanbul film Festival mid-April 2015, but was cancelled at the last minute by the Ministry of Culture.

When it was banned by the government from its premiere at the Istanbul international film festival in 2015, dozens of fellow Turkish film-makers withdrew their documentaries from the festival in solidarity, including Palme d’Or winner Nuri Bilge Ceylan. It has since been shown at a number of international and domestic film festivals.

The Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV), which organized the April 4-19 festival in 2015, defended their decision by stating that “Bakur” was pulled because of a special clause invoked by the culture ministry stating that the film did not have the required official registration certificate to be shown, Rudaw reports.

Criminalization of ordinary expressive works such as Bakur has unfortunately become increasingly common in Turkey since the start of the state of emergency in 2016, with extremely broad application of Article 7/2, Turkey’s counter-terrorism law, to silence and punish otherwise legal, legitimate expression both under international treaties and Turkey’s domestic laws on controversial subjects, IFEX stated.

Turkey continues to be the world’s leading jailer of journalists, and is currently prosecuting thousands of academics under anti-terrorism legislation.

The PKK is a banned political party in Turkey and designated as a terrorist organization. It has fought a nearly four-decade long guerrilla on-and-off war against the Turkish state, seeking greater cultural, political, and minority rights in the country. They are headquartered in the mountainous Qandil Region on the borders of Iran, Iraq, and Turkey.