RSF’s Turkey representative in a trial without end

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate withdrawal of the “terrorist propaganda” charges against its Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, and two other human rights defenders, whose trial was adjourned for another six months at a hearing today in Istanbul.

Postponing the trial, whose sole aim is to intimidate Turkish civil society, means that the defendants will have to spend another six months with the threat of a long prison sentence hanging over them.

Today’s hearing, attended by Önderoğlu and one of his two fellow defendants, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, last just ten minutes before being adjourned until 9 October. The court said it still needed to hear the testimony of the third defendant, Ahmet Nesin, who left the country.

This was the sixth postponement since the trial began in November 2016. The three defendants are accused of “propaganda for a terrorist organization,” “condoning crime” and “inciting crime” for taking part in a campaign of solidarity with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem.

“This trial, which criminalizes solidarity and press freedom and is solely designed to intimidate Turkish civil society, has gone on for too long,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “It is high time to drop the absurd charges against Erol Önderoğlu and his colleagues. We also call on the courts to overturn the convictions of those who have already been tried for participating in this campaign.”

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.

Özgür Gündem’s successor, Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, was placed under judicial control last month.

Önderoğlu and his two co-defendants, who are facing up to 14 years in prison, were the only participants in this campaign to be arrested. They spent ten days in provisional detention in June 2016.

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 a coup attempt in July 2016. 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.

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Updated on 18.04.2018