Trial of RSF’s Turkey representative postponed for 4th time

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s decision by an Istanbul court to postpone the trial of its Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, and two co-defendants until 26 December, and reiterates its call for their acquittal.

It was the latest in a series of postponements in their trial on the baseless charge of “terrorist propaganda” for taking part in a campaign of solidarity with the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem.

Representatives from RSF’s international secretariat (from its German section and its Brussels bureau) attended today’s hearing, the fourth in eight months. Although it lasted no more than ten minutes, RSF managed to submit an amicus brief intended to help the court decide to dismiss the case.

The court nonetheless decided to postpone the trial in order to allow time to contact and question one of the other two defendants, the writer Ahmet Nesin, who is now a refugee in France and is being tried in absentia. The third defendant is human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı.

“Not only do we want to be acquitted but we also want all the guilty verdicts already issued for other participants in this solidarity campaign to be quashed on appeal,” Önderoğlu said as he left the courtroom. “And we hope that the justice system will use this delay to realize the importance of the role of independent journalism and civil society.”

A total of 56 journalists, human rights defenders and intellectuals took part in the solidarity campaign, taking turns at being Özgür Gündem’s “editor for a day” from May to August 2016 because it had been hounded by the justice system. Forty-one of them are being prosecuted.

Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were the only ones to have been placed in pre-trial detention for their role in the solidarity campaign. That was a year ago, when they were held for ten days before being freed conditionally. They are charged with propaganda on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), condoning crime and inciting crime.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index, between Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sultanate of Brunei.

The media freedom situation in Turkey was already worrying but it has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed and more than 100 journalists are currently in prison.