İstanbul - Tenth hearing of the trial where Reporters without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, journalist Ahmet Nesin and the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) director Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur Fincancı face terror-related charges for participating in the “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign launched in solidarity with the since shuttered Özgür Gündem was held at İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court today.
The court accepted Önderoğlu’s request to be exempt from hearings. The court also granted Fincancı’s lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu extra time to prepare her defense statement and adjourned the trial until 17 July.
Three human rights advocates face “making terrorist propaganda,” “provoking to commit crimes,” and “praising criminals and offenses” charges.
Many people attended the hearing to express their solidarity with Önderoğlu, Korur-Fincancı and Nesin. Among the people who monitored the hearing were a delegation from Reporters without Borders (RSF) including RSF EECA head Johann Bihr, RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire, RSF UK head Rebecca Vincent, RSF Germany director Christian Mihr; representatives from the OSCE Media Freedom Office, PEN International, International Press Institute (IPI) and Amnesty International.
The hearing began at 10:00 as planned. Önderoğlu and Korur-Fincancı were present in the courtroom. Fincancı’s lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu could not attend the hearing but presented an excuse letter to the judge, requesting extra time to prepare her defense statement in relation to the prosecutor’s final opinion as to the allegations.
Önderoğlu: “We cannot begin to imagine a democratic society without a media that can write freely”
Önderoğlu presented his defense statement in response to the prosecutor’s opinion. Önderoğlu stated, “We were arrested during the prosecutor’s questioning, which we went in for voluntarily. We were released following a 10-day arrest measure. We are tried with an indictment that has been rushed and prepared in only one day,” and went on:
“Such practices aim to punish individuals in advance and bring them in line while violating Turkey’s legal obligations regarding the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression. Such practices undermine United Nations decisions on the protection of journalist and human rights defenders, recommendations of OSCE, and rulings of the European Court of Human Rights. Although you referred to us in the ‘singular you’ in previous hearings, I do not think that you know us enough or that you know about what we do” Önderoğlu said, addressing to the Presiding Judge Ali Güney and went on to explain his professional experience in civil society and the work he did in relation to media freedom advocacy.
Önderoğlu continued: “As someone with such concerns and a journalist of 24 years, it is very clear why I participated in this solitary campaign for Özgür Gündem. I believe in a pluralist media that performs by respecting the public’s right to information while reporting the truth. I participated in this campaign because I believe that we cannot begin to imagine a democratic society without a media that can write freely. This prosecution has been going on for three years and I believe that no concrete evidence could be presented in relation to the three charges. I demand my acquittal and my right to continue practicing my journalistic activities freely.”
Ahmet Nesin’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç took the floor next and noted that while criminal complaints were filed against some participants of the Editors-in-Chief on Watch campaign, some of these investigations were ended as courts gave non-prosecution verdicts. Emphasizing this inconsistency, Kılıç stated that these trials continue in an arbitrary fashion.
The court announced its interim decision and accepted Önderoğlu’s request to be exempt from hearings. The court also granted Fincancı’s lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu extra time to prepare her defense statement and adjourned the trial until 17 July.
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 criminal complaints were officially filed.
On 20 June 2016, Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı went to the court house voluntarily since they were asked to come in for a brief questioning as part of an investigation. They were arrested at the courthouse per the Terror and Organized Crimes Prosecutor’s request on “making terrorist propaganda” charges.
After the indictment was accepted by the court, Önderoğlu and Korur-Fincancı were released on 30 June and Nesin on 1 July.
During the ninth hearing of the trial which was held on 27 February 2019, the prosecutor presented his final opinion as to the accusations and requested the three human rights defenders to be punished for “making terrorist propaganda,” “provoking to commit crimes,” and “praising criminals and offenses” charges.