On 31 August 2010 an indictment was issued against Kurdish satellite TV station, Roj-TV, and its parent company, Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV.
Roj-TV began operations in March 2004 and broadcasts in Kurdish and several other languages to more than 70 countries. Administrative offices are located in Denmark where its operating licence was issued. The station’s broadcasting centre is in Denderleeuw, Belgium and was raided by police and security forces in March of this year. The studios in Denderleeuw are operated by ROJ NV, a separate broadcast production company that supplies programming to Roj-TV.
From the time the Danish Radio and Television Board granted the licence to Roj-TV there has been ever-increasing tension between Copenhagen and Ankara. Turkey has continuously pressured Denmark and other European allies to stop Roj-TV transmissions, lodging complaint after official complaint.
The current indictment against the station was filed by the Danish Prosecutor General’s office for violation of Penal Code §114e. Under this provision under Danish law, it is an offence for a person, group, or association to promote the affairs of a terrorist organisation. The indictment is for ‘promoting the affairs of the terrorist organisation, PKK’ (Kurdistan Workers’ Party or Partiya Karkerên
Kurdistan in Kurdish). The press release from PG Jørgen Steen Sørensen (see press release in Danish) specifically mentions repeated broadcasts of interviews with PKK sympathisers and leaders, saying that a number of programmes, according to their content, are ‘propaganda activities supporting the PKK and that this propaganda activity is likely to promote the activities of the PKK.’ The press release also mentioned that ‘cases of violation of Penal Code §114e are rare.’ (see the Danish Security and Intelligence Service website for complete details on Section 114 and its clauses).
This code clearly indicates that a ‘person’ is liable, not an organisation. However, a ‘person’ has not been indicted in this case against Roj-TV. Danish State Prosector Lise-Lotte Nilas said that her office decided to go after the companies rather than individuals. The prosecutor’s office felt that the investigation would have taken longer had they chosen to bring an indictment against the people involved in the case rather than the companies.
And more delays were what they did not want. The case against Roj-TV has taken long enough as it is, with only one investigator assigned to it. An investigation into alleged ties with the PKK began in July 2005, making it five years and a month to indict Roj-TV and Mesopotamia Broadcast A/S METV. Mesopotamia is the parent company for Roj-TV, Mezopotamya TV (ME TV) and the Mesopotamia Music Channel (MMC).
The case is complicated, pitting press freedoms against illegal financing and support of terrorism. But the deck is stacked against Roj-TV with Denmark being called Europe’s weak link, bringing with it enormous pressure on Danish courts to shut the station down and prove Denmark can be a partner in the global fight against terrorism.
Former managing director of Roj-TV’s administrative offices in Denmark, Manouchehr Zonoozi, went public in the spring claiming that Roj-TV had substantive connections to the PKK. He turned over photographs showing meetings between senior management at Roj-TV and members of the PKK. Photographs were from meetings in Belgium as well as at PKK training camps in the Qandil Mountains. He says he learned of the Roj-TV/PKK connections back in 2004 at a meeting at a PKK camp in Hewlêr (Erbil).
Zonoozi was director of the station until mid-2008. Some reports say Zonoozi resigned from his position due to threats from members of the PKK in Belgium. Other reports indicate he was fired by a representative from the PKK. He is now cooperating with Danish national intelligence (PET) and has been given a new identity. He lives in a safe house under police protection after several threats were made against his life. Yilmaz Imdat is the new head of Roj-TV in Denmark.
Lise-Lotte Nilas, Danish Public Prosecutor in the case, said that contact with PKK in and of itself is not forbidden by law. So this does not constitute a crime. What is important, she underscored, and what was the scope of the investigation, is whether Roj-TV supports terrorism and incites further terrorist actions. The investigation focused mainly on the organisational and economic structure of the TV station.
If the past is any indication, then the answer is that the station does not incite terrorist actions. In response to three complaints by Turkish authorities in 2006, the Danish Radio and Television Board determined in May 2007 that Roj-TV had not violated any broadcasting rules (ruling memo, .pdf) nor had they incited violence or hatred.
Danish Radio and TV board chairman, Christian Scherfig, says that from what he has seen from Roj-TV, their programming is similar to the objective news coverage from other stations such as DR or TV2 [Danish television stations].
Another piece of the investigative puzzle was the discovery back in May 2010 that Ibrahim Ayaz, a Kurdish Swede who sits on the Roj-TV board of directors, held a 20% stake in Roj-TV. Ayaz was Abullah Öcalan’s bodyguard and personal assistant. Henrik Winkel, chairman of the Roj-TV board, has reportedly said in private that he is no longer making decisions for the station since Ayaz’s accession to the board.
Berlingske Tidene, a Danish newspaper with a conservative bent, has extensive coverage of Roj-TV. It came under fire from Kurdish organisations across Europe for its coverage of alleged connections between the station and the PKK. Henrik Winkel, Roj-TV chairman, said that despite the ‘insulting’ and ‘defamatory’ articles published in Berlingske Tidene, Roj-TV would not file a lawsuit against the newspaper. Winkel said it would be ‘a wasted effort and would not lead to anything.’
Part of Berlingske Tidene’s investigation revealed that Roj-TV has received 118,000,000 Danish Kr. (appx. €16m) since 2004 in ‘illegal’ funding from the Copenhagen-based Kurdish Culture Foundation (KCF). Monies from the KCF are deemed illegal because there is no clarity as to where the KCF receives the funds that it then donates. The prosecution’s case will try to prove that the funding comes from the PKK, linking ‘terrorist’ money to the TV station.
The Danish Justice Ministry’s Civil Affairs Agency (CAA) in the past has threatened the Kurdish Culture Foundation with fines (once in 2004 and again in 2008) due to its untraceable largesse. No sanctions were ever levied against the KCF, however Danish Justice Minister Lars Barfoed has now prohibited the organisation from any further donations to Roj-TV without explicit approval from the CAA.
After the indictment was announced, police arrived at the offices of Roj-TV at H.C. Andersens Boulevard, 39 in Copenhagen. They drilled out the lock in the door, entered, and took away five desktop computers and several boxes. Everything was then loaded into a white van parked outside the doors.
Turkey’s ambassador to Denmark, Berki Dibek, was obviously pleased with the indictment and made his feelings known in an announcement in which he said he was confident that the Danish judicial system would do the right thing.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry welcomed the decision in a statement saying it expects ‘that these media organisations…will get the punishment they deserve.’
The Turkish press, too, welcomed the decision with headlines such as ‘Finally, Denmark’ and ‘Good morning, Denmark’, referring sarcastically to the length of time it took for the indictment to be handed down.
Line Barfod, a Danish member of parliament and legal affairs spokesperson from the Red-Green Alliance (Endhedslisten) calls the indictment against Roj-TV a serious curtailment of freedom of expression in Denmark. She said that if the media is no longer free to broadcast interviews and reports from areas of conflict, then it is a very serious limitation on freedom of expression. She added that Danish authorities are bowing to pressure from Turkey and the US and laments the fact that millions of Kurds may no longer be able to watch TV in their native language. Barfod also stated that Denmark’s anti-terrorism laws must be amended to avoid further reductions in press freedoms and freedom of speech.
No date has been set yet for the trial, which is expected to be followed closely across Europe and in Turkey. The trial will take place at the Copenhagen Municipal Court. Should Roj-TV and its parent company be found guilty, prosecutors will ask that Roj-TV’s broadcast licence be revoked.
Denmark’s leading criminal law expert, University of Copenhagen professor Jørn Vestergaard, believes the prosecution has fairly good odds of winning the case. In the meantime, and much to the frustration of Ankara, Roj-TV continues on the air.
Partial timeline of events in Roj-TV’s history:
• 09 December 2003: Roj-TV receives broadcasting licence in Denmark
• 01 March 2004: Roj-TV begins broadcasting
• July 2005: Investigation begins
• November 2005: Turkish PM Erdoğan refuses to attend press conference with Danish counterpart Rasmussen because Roj-TV was present
• May 2007: Danish Radio and Television Board announces that Roj-TV has not violated any laws regarding incitement to hatred or violence
• 24 February 2008: Belgian officials fine Roj-TV €4.25m (later annulled)
• 19 June 2008: Germany bans Roj-TV broadcasts
• mid-2008: Zonoozi steps down from position as head of Roj-TV in Denmark
• 01 April 2009: Danish prosecutors sent to Ankara to investigate links between Roj-TV and the PKK
• 04 April 2009: Danish PM Anders Fogh Rasmussen selected to be NATO’s next Secretary General
• 01 August 2009: Rasmussen becomes NATO Secretary General
• 24 February 2010: German ban on Roj-TV abolished
• 04 March 2010: Roj-TV offices raided in Belgium
• May 2010: Zonoozi goes to Berlingske Tidene to give his story
• 31 August 2010: Danish Prosecutor General’s office announces indictment against Roj-TV
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