From left: Ahmet Nesin, Prof Dr Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Erol Önderoğlu
Seven years of baseless trials in the case of Özgür Gündem Guest Editors
The 8th hearing in the case against RSF’s Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, Turkish Medical Association’s Chair Prof Dr Şebnem Korur Fincancı and author Ahmet Nesin was heard today at Istanbul’s 13th High Criminal Court.
The three are on trial for ‘Guest Editing’ the shuttered Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem for one symbolic day in 2016. Initially arrested and detained for 10 days in 2016, all three were acquitted of all charges in 2019. The judges’ decision was appealed by the prosecutor, leading to a retrial commencing in 2021.
Monitoring today’s hearing along with PEN Norway were representatives of the French and Netherlands Consulates General and representatives of press freedom supporting organisations the Committee for the Protection of Journalists (CPJ), the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), Media Law Studies Association (MLSA) and Punto 24 (P24).
The hearing, which started 40 minutes later than scheduled, lasted for only one minute.
This retrial was adjourned once again in order to wait for delivery of the statement of author Ahmet Nesin, who lives abroad, in response to the Regional Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn the 2019 acquittals in the case. The next hearing will be held on 20 February 2024.
Önderoğlu: The decisions in this case are cause for concern
Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu said this to PEN Norway:
“The Supreme Court’s recent decisions in the Özgür Gündem Solidarity trials have been cause for great concern. As you might know, human rights defender Celalettin Can was recently taken to prison following the Supreme Court’s confirmation of his sentence.”
He went on, “I came here to court today for two reasons: firstly, to stand up and take ownership of the case against me and secondly to make sure that it remains in the public eye and does not become invisible. I’ve been on trial on these charges now for seven years and this just goes to show what kind of a strained and pressured environment there is here in Turkey for journalists. The continual adjournments in this case are in no way reassuring. We journalists in Turkey can only be reassured and free to do our jobs when Turkey’s anti-terror laws are brought in line with universal legal norms.”
Background: What happened so far in the case?
When the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem was shuttered, for no good reason, by Emergency Decree in 2016, authors, human rights defenders, journalists, academics and editors came together to stand in for one symbolic day as ‘Guest Editor’ of the newspaper in a show of solidarity. Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were arrested in 2016 for their participation in this act of solidarity with the paper. They were imprisoned for 10 days and a case was opened against them under the charges of ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’, ‘public incitement to commit a crime’, and ‘being in praise of a crime or criminal’. In 2019 a high criminal court found to acquit all three defendants. However, the Regional Court of Appeals decided to overturn this decision on 20 October 2020 and the trial, which amounts to no more than prolonged judicial harassment with the aim of sending negative signals to other rights defenders, continues.
Thirty-eight of the people who participated in the symbolic ‘Guest Editorship’ of Özgür Gündem have had cases opened against them on the charges of ‘making propaganda for a terrorist organisation’ and ‘printing or disseminating notices, bulletins or press statements of a terror organisation’. Four of the 38 have been acquitted and 27 people have received prison sentences amounting to a total of 293 months and 15 days, as well as fines amounting to sixty-seven thousand Turkish Lira. These other cases are also continuing.
PEN Norway have been following this case from the outset. Turkey Advisor Caroline Stockford said of the case, “Cases like this are a waste of resources, a source of continual harassment of innocent journalists and rights defenders and are quite obviously resurrected only to keep up the pressure on dissenting voices in Turkey and to send a message to others in the country that no-one is safe from baseless, time consuming and exhausting judicial proceedings. We will always stand by our innocent colleagues and call upon Turkey’s authorities to implement and strictly abide by the rule of law.”
PEN Norway studied the indictment in the case in 2020 as part of the Turkey Indictment Project. The report of Norwegian Judge Heidi Heggdal, which holds up the indictment in comparison to relevant domestic and international regulations is available to read here: