The Committee to Protect Journalists is urging Turkey to end its crackdown on the press and has called for the release of three journalists working for Kurdish outlets who were arrested this month on terrorism-related charges.  

The arrests bring the number of journalists imprisoned in Turkey to 17, cementing its position as the leading jailer of journalists in Europe and Central Asia, the media rights group said. The arrests coincide with a surge in violence and security operations in predominantly Kurdish areas of southeast Turkey.

"The Turkish government is never going to overcome its many complex challenges by throwing journalists in jail. Silencing news and opinion will only lead to a dangerous information vacuum," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement late Tuesday. 

On Dec. 1, Zeki Karakus, owner of the pro-Kurdish news website Nusaybin Haber, was arrested for "making propaganda for a terrorist organization," the media watchdog said quoting his lawyer, Gulistan Duran. He is being held in a prison in the southeastern city of Mardin.

Deniz Babir of the Kurdish-language daily Azadiya Welat was arrested Dec. 15 in the city of Diyarbakir, reportedly on charges of "belonging to a banned group." He had been covering clashes between Turkish security forces and the youth wing of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Plainclothes policemen in Diyarbakir arrested Beritan Canozer, a reporter for the women's news agency Jinha, while covering protests against security operations. 

Ognianova urged Turkish authorities to release the trio, drop all charges against them and allow them to continue reporting in southeastern Turkey. The media group also noted that four other journalists had been rounded up for questioning and stripped of their equipment in Diyarbakir.

The Turkish government on Wednesday defended its actions.

"Working for a press institution doesn't mean people can violate laws and get away with it," a senior Turkish official said in response to the report. "The arrests of said individuals had nothing to do with their journalistic activities."

The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government rules.

Among those arrested by Turkey this year is Mohammed Rasool, a journalist who has worked for The Associated Press and other media organizations. He was arrested in August in Diyarbakir while reporting for Vice News.