RSF urges charges to be dropped against Turkey representative as trial looms

Reporters Without Borders calls for charges to be dropped against its representative in Turkey, Erol Önderoğlu, the human rights campaigner, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and the journalists, Ahmet Nesin and İnan Kızılkaya, who are due to go on trial in Istanbul on 8 November.

The first three face possible custodial sentences for taking part in a solidarity campaign in support of the Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. They were arrested in June this year and charged with “terrorist propaganda” for taking part in the campaign, which involved acting as guest editors for the newspaper.

The campaign ran between May and August and involved dozens of leading figures acting as guest editors for the newspaper, which has been a repeated victim of Turkey’s abuse of its terrorism laws to crack down on independent journalism. They in turn have been prosecuted under the same laws.

All three were arrested on June 20 and released on parole 10 days later after a worldwide outcry. Nonetheless, they will still face trial on 8 November. The real editor of Özgür Gündem, İnan Kızılkaya, will be tried at the same time. He has been jailed since August 16.

“At a time when media pluralism is in its death throes in Turkey, some 50 journalists and intellectuals are at risk of being jailed for having defended the right of a pro-Kurdish newspaper to exist,” Önderoğlu said.

“After spending 10 days in prison, it is difficult for us to put our hopes in a justice system that is entirely controlled by the government and subject to a state of emergency for the past three months.

“Only widespread support can prevent our conviction in a country whose government is sinking into authoritarianism with little concern for the respect of democratic values.”

Rubina Möhring, the president of RSF Austria, Lucie Morillon, RSF programme director, Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, and Anne Renzenbrink, media relations officer at RSF Germany will attend the hearing in Istanbul. They will attend a joint news conference with Turkish human rights groups at 10 am on 8 November, the day the trial opens.

On 7 November they will observe the opening of the trial of Nadire Mater of the news website Bianet, who is also being prosecuted for taking part in the “guest editor” campaign at Özgür Gündem. The group will also visit the editorial offices of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, 12 of whose journalists were arrested on 31 October, and will meet representatives of news organizations that have been recently closed down.

We shall be attending in order to demonstrate our total support for Erol, Şebnem, Ahmet, and all those who have been prosecuted for defending media pluralism,” said Morillon.

The alarming scale of the purge of news organizations in Turkey in recent months confirms that their fight is justified. We call once again for these absurd allegations to be dropped, for journalists imprisoned without due cause to be released and for media pluralism to be restored in Turkey.”

Önderoğlu is being prosecuted over three articles published in Özgür Gündem on 18 May. They covered the power struggles among various branches of the Turkish security forces and operations against rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in southeast Anatolia.

Önderoğlu, RSF representative in Turkey since 1996, compiles quarterly reports for the Bianet website on the state of freedom of expression in Turkey. He is a council member of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange and works regularly with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, as well as other international organizations.

Turkey is ranked 151st of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by RSF. The state of the media, already a cause for concern, has become critical since the coup attempt in July this year.

The premises of Özgür Gündem were sealed off in August and the newspaper was definitively closed down on government orders on 29 October.

Bans have been placed on almost 150 media titles and a similar number of journalists are currently in prison.

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Updated on 04.11.2016