The Middelburg-based Roosevelt Foundation said the prize was awarded to RSF’s representative for his “tireless and persistent dedication to defending freedom of speech and expression.”
Previous recipients of the Roosevelt Foundation’s freedom of speech award include Amnesty International, the Spanish daily El País, the Liberian politician Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (who later became her country’s president), the Russian musician Mstislav Rostropovich, the former Polish dissident Bronislaw Geremek and, more recently, Mazen Darwish, the founder of the RSF-backed Syrian Centre for Media.
The decision to give this year’s prize to Erol Önderoğlu is a welcome gesture of support to Turkish civil society and to Turkey’s journalists, who are being subjected to an unprecedented level of harassment and persecution.
Created in 1982, the centenary of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s birth, the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award has four categories, corresponding to the four freedoms that President Roosevelt proclaimed as essential to democracy in an address to the US Congress in January 1941: freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear.
An “International Four Freedoms Award” is also given every year. This year’s award went to the Paris Climate Agreement, and was collected by Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Past recipients include Vaclav Havel, Nelson Mandela, Angela Merkel, the Dalai Lama and Kofi Annan.
“Seeing Erol Önderoğlu in such estimable company is an honour and an encouragement for our entire organization,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We are extremely proud of his unwavering commitment to defending journalistic freedom and pluralism in Turkey. Because of his diligence and integrity, which are known everywhere, he is a leading figure in the worlds of journalism and human rights. We call on the Turkish authorities to end all unjustified judicial proceedings against journalists in Turkey.”
At the orders of an Istanbul court, Önderoğlu and two co-defendants spent ten days in pre-trial detention in June 2016 on a “terrorist propaganda” charge for taking part in a campaign of solidarity with the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem along with some 50 other well-known figures. His trial is still under way: the last hearing was held on 18 April and the next is scheduled for 9 October.
Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.