9 people are convicted in the trial of Özgür Gündem Editors-in-Chief on Watch

3 April 2019

İstanbul - Eleventh hearing of the trial where 13 journalists and writers face “making terrorist propaganda” charges for participating in the “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign in solidarity with the since shut-down Özgür Gündem daily was held at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court today.

8 people who took part in the Editors-in-Chief on Watch campaign and one person whose letter from prison was published in the newspaper received prison sentences.

The trial where Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Celalettin Can, İhsan Çaralan, Celal Başlangıç, Fehim Işık, Dilşah Kocakaya, Öncü Akgül, Hüseyin Aykol, Ömer Ağın, Veysel Kemer, Mehmet Şirin Taşdemir and Yüksel Oğuz face “making terrorist propaganda” charges was observed by journalist and People’s Democratic Party (HDP) MP Ahmet Şık, Reporters without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, and writer Nevzat Onaran as well as many reporters.

Lawyers: “Defandants have no criminal liability”

Lawyer Özcan Kılıç stated that defendants who are tried in this case had volunteered to have their names written in the newspaper’s personal record for one day as a way of showing solidarity, clarified that these individuals are not in fact editors working for the newspaper, and that they do not have criminal liability per the Turkish Press Law. Kılıç reminded the court of the irregularities in the case file and said that the prosecutor is repeating the indictment as his final opinion without taking presented statements or the documents added to the file into consideration.

Lawyers Devrim Avcı, Yıldız İmrek, Ruken Gülağacı, Rozerin Seda Kip, Yeşinil Yeşilyurt, Fikret İlkiz and Ekin Güneş Saygılı took the floor in turn and stated that the act that is incriminated here must be considered within freedom of press and expression. The lawyers repeated that these individuals do not have any criminal liability per the Turkish Press Law, noting that the indictment does not even specify what exactly is considered propaganda in this context.

Defendant Faruk Eren said, “I’ve been working as a journalist for over 30 years. I am the chairman of Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey’s (DİSK) Union of Press and Printing Workers. I knew that we wouldn’t be able to advocate for press freedom and freedom of expression if we could not protect Özgür Gündem. That’s why I became one of the first Editors-in-Chief on watch. Unfortunately, we failed. Özgür Gündem does not exist anymore. We are defending our own profession here. My demand from you is to defend your own profession, the rule of law, and justice.”

Presiding judge: “We recognize their criminal liability”

While announcing the verdict, presiding judge Murat Özer stated: “We recognized the criminal liability of these defendants who appear to have been temporary editors-in-chief of the newspaper.”

While acquitted for “identifying individuals as a target” charge for his columns, Hüseyin Aykol was sentenced to 3 years and 9 months in prison for “terrorist propaganda through press” charges.

Journalists Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Fehim Işık, Celal Başlangıç, Öncü Akgül and İhsan Çaralan were sentenced to 1 year and 3 months for the same charge, the court decided to defer their sentences.

Celalettin Can received a 1 year and 3 month prison sentence as well but his sentence was not deferred.

Other defendants stood trial for having their letters written from prison published in the newspaper. While Mehmet Şirin Taşdemir, Ömer Ağın, Veysel Kemer, Yüksel Oğuz were acquitted for this, Dilşah Kocakaya was sentenced to 1 year and 3 months in prison and her sentence was not deferred as well.

Özgür Gündem Editors-in-Chief on Watch trials

The “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign was launched in 2016 in order to show solidarity and support for  dissident newspaper Özgür Gündem, which faced hundreds of investigations, dozens of trials, and judiciary fines that added up to hundreds of thousands of Turkish Liras. The campaign lasted between 3 May - 7 August, 2016. An investigation was launched for “making terrorist propaganda” charges on behalf of 49 out of 59 people who participated in this campaign. Özgür Gündem was then shut down on 30 October 2016 with the Decree Law no. 675.

11 out of 49 of these Editors-in-Chief on Watch trials ended with a non-prosecution verdict and 38 cases were opened. Twenty people were sentenced to either prison or judiciary fines. One person’s case was dismissed due to the statute of limitations. Four people were acquitted. The trial of 12 journalists is ongoing at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court and Can Dündar’s trial is ongoing at the Istanbul 22nd High Criminal Court.