Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Turkish authorities to drop all charges against RSF Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu, who is facing the possibility of 14 and a half years in prison for supporting a Kurdish opposition newspaper in a retrial that resumes tomorrow.
Onderoglu and his two co-defendants – human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and writer and journalist Ahmet Nesin – are being retried for participating in a campaign of solidarity in May 2016 with the Kurdish opposition newspaper Özgür Gündem. The retrial, which began on 3 February and should have resumed in May, was interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s time to end five years of judicial incoherence,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “This Kafkaesque trial is evidence of the way the Turkish authorities persecute courageous figures who tirelessly defend press freedom in their country. The use of terrorism charges in this case is an absurdity. The Turkish justice system would enhance its standing by abandoning these proceedings and showing that it refuses to let itself be used.”
Onderoglu and some 50 other well-known figures took turns at symbolically being Özgür Gündem’s “editor for a day” in May 2016 because it was the victim of judicial persecution. On the basis of articles published in the newspaper during this solidarity campaign, they were accused of “terrorist propaganda,” “praising a crime or criminal” and “condoning a crime” – charges carrying a possible combined sentence of 14 and a half years in prison under Turkey’s penal code and Terrorism Law No. 3713.
Onderoglu and his co-defendants were acquitted in July 2019 at the end of a trial that was repeatedly adjourned and lasted more than three years. RSF hailed the decision at the time as “an exceptional victory for justice and press freedom in a country where both are being trampled on every day.”
However, their acquittal was overturned in 2020 by an Istanbul appeal court, which rejected the argument that their editorial roles were purely symbolic and criticized the original assize court’s decision to handle their cases separately from that of Özgür Gündem editor Inan Kizilkaya, who was tried on similar charges.
The appeal court issued this ruling just one week after President Erdogan publicly accused one of Onderoglu’s co-defendants of being a “terrorist.” As a result, an assize court is having to retry the three defendants on the same charges. So far, the only difference from the first trial has been the inclusion of Özgür Gündem’s editor on the list of potential witnesses, although he has not yet been called to testify.
RSF’s representative in Turkey since 1996, Onderoglu is both a journalist and staunch press freedom advocate. As a result of his diligence and integrity, he is a leading figure in Turkey, is well known all over the world, and has received several international awards.
Ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey is currently Europe’s biggest jailer of professional journalists. The few surviving independent media outlets are constantly harassed and marginalised, while journalists who are detained and news media that are shut down are denied any legal recourse.