December 22, 2017 - Updated on January 27, 2020

RSF to attend trials of journalists next week in Istanbul

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is sending an international delegation to Istanbul next week for the resumption of two emblematic trials, one targeting the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet and one in which RSF's Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, is one of the defendants. RSF calls for an immediate end to these prosecutions.

Hearings in the case against 17 Cumhuriyet employees will resume on 25 December, while Önderoğlu and fellow defendant Şebnem Korur Fincancı are due to appear in court on 26 December.

The RSF delegation, which will include RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire, will be at the law courts in the Istanbul district of de Çağlayan on 26 December to attend the hearings and express solidarity with the journalists on trial.

"The charges against these journalists and free speech activists are absurd and disgraceful, and show that journalism is simply being criminalized in Turkey," Deloire said. "We won't stop saying this until they are rendered justice: we demand the withdrawal of these proceedings, the restoration of pluralism and the release of all journalists who are in prison because of their journalistic activities."

The Cumhuriyet employees are facing up to 43 years in prison for criticizing the authorities and for supposedly "defending" three organizations regarded as "terrorist" groups in Turkey: the Gülen Movement, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the DHKP/C, a small far-left group. The ideologies of these three organizations are very different and all were repeatedly criticized by Cumhuriyet, which was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2015.

Since the start of the trial in July, the defence has methodically dismantled the prosecution case, which is above all based on articles in the paper that have been misinterpreted and taken out of context and on insignificant contacts between journalists and sources or partners, as well as many factual errors.

Eight of the Cumhuriyet employees on trial were released after months in provisional detention but four – editor Murat Sabuncu, investigative reporter Ahmet Şık, executive board president Akın Atalay and accountant Emre İper – are still detained. They have been held for periods ranging from eight to 14 months.

In a separate Cumhuriyet trial, the prosecution requested 15-year jail sentences on 20 December for the paper's former editor, Can Dündar, his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, and an alleged source, Enis Berberoğlu.

Önderoğlu, who has been RSF's Turkey representative for more than 20 years, is being tried for taking part in a campaign of solidarity with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. The proceedings began in November 2016. As well as Fincancı, he has another co-defendant, the writer Ahmet Nesin, who is being tried in absentia because he left the country.

In all, a total of 41 people have been or are being prosecuted for taking part in this solidarity campaign, in which they symbolically took turns at being Özgür Gündem's “editor for a day” in mid-2016 because it had been the victim of judicial persecution. It ended up being forcibly closed in August 2016.

Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were the only participants in this campaign to be arrested. They spent ten days in provisional detention in June 2016. They are facing the possibility of sentences of up to 14 years in prison on charges of PKK propaganda, condoning crime and inciting crime.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.