First convictions in Kurdish newspaper solidarity campaign trials

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by the first two convictions yesterday in a series of trials in Istanbul of well-known participants in solidarity campaign with the persecuted Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem, and the intimidatory nature of the suspended prison sentences handed down by the court.

RSF’s representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoğlu, is currently on trial for the same reason – for being one of the 56 people who acted as the newspaper’s “editor for a day” in a campaign than ran from May to August last year. Thirty-six of them are being tried.

The two convicted yesterday were the well-known human rights defender Şanar Yurdatapan and the publisher İbrahim Aydın Bodur. They were given 15-month suspended jail terms and fines of 6,000 lira (1,500 euros) on charges of “terrorist propaganda” and “publishing a terrorist organization’s communiqués.”

Önderoğlu is being tried with two other participants in the same campaign in defence of media pluralism, the human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and the writer Ahmet Nesin. All three were jailed for 10 days last June.

“The conviction of Şanar Yurdatapan and İbrahim Aydın Bodur sends an unacceptable intimidatory message to Turkey’s civil society,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk.

“We demand their acquittal on appeal and the withdrawal of the proceedings against all the other participants in the solidarity campaign with Özgür Gündem. The speed with which pluralism has been dismantled in Turkey during the past six month shows how right they were to wage this campaign.”

Yurdatapan was convicted on the basis of two articles published by Özgür Gündem on 18 June. One described the actions of the Turkish armed forces in the mainly Kurdish southeast of the country. The other referred to the deaths of three members of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in armed clashes.

Yurdatapan is also a well-known musician who was responsible for major civil disobedience campaigns against the persecution of intellectuals in the 1990s along with the writer Yaşar Kemal and the composer Zülfü Livaneli, and for a long time was the spokesman of the Initiative against Crimes of Conscience.

A big RSF delegation in Istanbul

The trial of Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin meanwhile continued on 11 January with a large RSF delegation in attendance. The court limited itself to announcing that Özgür Gündem’s real editor, İnan Kızılkaya, will be tried separately, instead of with these three. The next hearing in the case of Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin has been set for 21 March.

The RSF delegation also visited the headquarters of the newspaper Cumhuriyet, 11 of whose employees have been in prison since the start of November, and met with relatives of the imprisoned journalists.

At the end of the hearing, Önderoğlu and RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire took part in a news conference outside the law courts in the Istanbul district of Çağlayan together with Fincancı and Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül.

In a separate case on 11 January, the prosecutor requested ten-year jail terms for Gül and former Cumhuriyet editor Can Dündar (now living in self-imposed exile), for their revelations about Turkish arms deliveries to Islamist groups in Syria. He requested life imprisonment for their alleged source, opposition parliamentarian Enis Berberoğlu. The court’s verdict is expected on 1 March.

Turkey is ranked 151st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index. The already disturbing media situation in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency declared in the wake of last July’s failed coup.

Özgür Gündem’s offices were placed under seal in August and it was dissolved by decree on 29 October. A total of 176 other media outlets have been shut down in the same way and more than 100 journalists are currently detained.

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Updated on 14.01.2017