Turkish official: 19 hour detention, interrogation a ‘mistake’
TURKEY–An Istanbul-based New York Times correspondent was detained and interrogated for 19 hours by security forces in Southeast Turkey in early March.
Steven Kinzer has since received numerous apologies, including a letter from the Foreign Minister and a dinner invitation from a senior military officer in Ankara. He said that the authorities are “mortified” by the treatment he received in the hands of the security forces. Akif Octay, in the political section of the Turkish Consulate in Washington D.C., stated that the incident was a mistake.
Kinzer had been invited, along with a few other reporters, to accompany some military officers on a three-day tour of Southeast Turkey. After accompanied visits to both civilian government officials and military officers, he decided to travel on his own through Batman province to do additional reporting.
Kinzer said he and his translator were stopped and held at a rural roadblock near the town of Kozluk. After being detained for an hour, they were sent to the regional military headquarters and then to police headquarters in Batman city, both times accompanied by armored personnel carriers. In Batman city, Kinzer said he was placed in a basement detention center and interrogated for seven hours by six men in civilian clothes. During this time he was fingerprinted and photographed, his car and person were thoroughly searched, his camera was confiscated, and parts of his interrogation were videotaped. He was also denied access to a telephone, he said.
Kinzer said that his interrogators accused him of spying for the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), a Kurdish rebel group fighting for autonomy in Southeast Turkey.
At 3 a.m. Kinzer was allowed to rest in a jail cell and was made to sign documents which included his fingerprints and photographs as well as various statements. He wrote only `Signed in protest’ and says that the Turkish officials, seeing the `S’ assumed he had actually endorsed the documents. He was released at 10 a.m. and his film was returned.
As of mid-March, the Turkish Consulate had not received an official report from Turkey but Octay stressed that due to the huge campaign against terrorists in the Southeast region, local security forces may have been overzealous in their approach towards Kinzer. According to Octay, Kinzer was “detained for a few hours” and then released after authorities realized that he was a journalist.
The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented 14 cases of what it characterized as arbitrary detention of journalists in Turkey in 1996.