RSF Turkey rep facing 14 years in jail again after court quashes acquittal

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is appalled by an Istanbul appeal court’s decision to overturn RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu’s acquittal last year on a “terrorist propaganda” charge and to order a retrial. This case must be dropped, RSF said.

Önderoğlu and two co-defendants, human right defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı and the writer and journalist Ahmet Nesin, had in principle been acquitted on this and the two other charges ¬– “praising a crime or criminal” and “condoning a crime” – that were brought against them because each symbolically edited the newspaper Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) for a day in 2016 as a part of press freedom campaign after it was shut down in August of that year.

Unlike the court that acquitted them in July 2019, the appeal court did not accept the argument that their editorial roles were purely symbolic. In a decision reached on 20 October and issued two days ago, the appeal court not only quashed the acquittal but also criticized the original court’s decision to handle their cases separately from that of Özgür Gündem editor in chief, Inan Kizilkaya, who was the subject of ten parallel charges over articles published before its closure.

“Defending press freedom cannot be treated as a crime in a country that respects basic rights,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Our Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, already spent ten days in prison and was subjected to judicial proceedings and a trial that were very long simply for defending media pluralism in Turkey. It is unbearable to think that this baseless judicial persecution could resume for him and his co-defendants. The Turkish justice system would do well to drop this case at once.”

Like Fincancı and Nesin, Önderoğlu is facing the possibility of up to 14 and a half years in prison under Terrorism Law 3712 and the penal code. During their original trial, it was made clear to the court that they had supported the campaign symbolically in the name of media pluralism, which is in greater danger than ever in Turkey.

“I participated in this solidarity campaign because I believe a democratic society is impossible if the media cannot express themselves without censorship and persecution,” Önderoğlu told the court on 15 April 2019. “It is not these charges hanging over our heads like a permanent threat that worry us. It is the fate of our society in its entirety in the face of the erosion of the sense of justice that binds us together.”

Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin will be retried by an Istanbul court of assizes on February 3rd, and their case could be linked with that of Özgür Gündem’s editor in chief.

Along with 16 activists, Önderoğlu was also prosecuted for expressing solidarity in January 2016 with hundreds of university academics who had signed a peace petition. He was definitively acquitted on this charge when a constitutional court ruled in favour of the academics in September 2019.

Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 13.11.2020