Summing-up in trial of RSF’s Turkey representative delayed until January

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the Turkish authorities to dismiss the case against its Turkey representative and two other human rights defenders after an Istanbul court today adjourned their trial for the seventh time in nearly two years.

RSF also appeals for as much support as possible for the next hearing, scheduled for 28 January, at which the prosecution is finally expected to present its summing-up and announce the sentences it wants the court to impose.

Attended by two of the three defendants, RSF Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu and human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı, today’s hearing was adjourned after just five minutes on the grounds that the court needs to examine the written statement sent by the third defendant, Ahmet Nesin, who has fled the country.

All three are facing up to 14 years in prison on charges 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 threat hanging over our colleagues sends an intimidatory message to Turkey’s journalists and civil society that is unacceptable,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk, who attended the hearing. “We call for the broadest possible support for the next hearing, at which the prosecution is to present its summing-up.”

Önderoğlu added: “Our only crime was to defend pluralism and we will continue to do so. We call on the justice system to recognize civil society’s legitimate role and to end these arbitrary prosecutions.”

A leading press freedom defender who has represented RSF in Turkey since 1996, Önderoğlu and his two fellow defendants have been on trial since November 2016 for their role in a campaign to defend media pluralism.

In all, around 40 people have been or are being prosecuted for taking part in the 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 itself placed under judicial control in March of this year. Önderoğlu and his two co-defendants are the only participants to have been arrested in connection with this campaign. They spent ten days in provisional detention in June 2016.

Representatives of PEN International and Norwegian PEN and diplomats from France, Luxembourg, Norway and the United Kingdom also attended today’s hearing at a court in the Istanbul district of Çağlayan.

Eleven other journalists, including Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, İhsan Çaralan and Fehim Işık, are due to appear in court tomorrow in Istanbul for taking part in the same solidarity campaign.

The already worrying situation of Turkey’s media has become critical since an abortive coup in July 2016. Many media outlets have been closed summarily, without any effective form of recourse, mass trials are being held and Turkey now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists in prison. It is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.