On August 16, 2016, Özgür Gündem newspaper was closed down by the Istanbul 8. Criminal Court of Peace on allegations of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”. Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Press Crimes Bureau issued an arrest warrant for nine of the newspaper’s executives and writers. Police raided the newspaper’s office in Istanbul.
Arrest warrants were issued for the following nine people: Özgür Gündem’s publisher Kemal Sancılı, Editor-in-Chief Bilir Kaya, Managing Editor İnan Kızılkaya, Advisory Board Members Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay, Eren Keskin, Filiz Koçali, Ragıp Zarakolu and Bilge Aykut Contepe.
Aslı Erdoğan was arrested on August 19, İnan Kızılkaya and Bilir Kaya on August 22, Necmiye Alpay on August 31 when she turned herself in, and Kemal Sancılı on January 2. Eren Keskin was referred to the court on August 25, 2016 by the prosecutor’s office where she went to testify about the arrest warrant.
She was released on the same day by court order, on condition of judicial control. Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay and Bilir Kaya were released on December 29, 2016 and İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı were released on December 31, 2017. Kemal Sancılı was arrested again on May 11, 2018.
İstanbul Public Prosecutor’s Office completed the indictment on November 9, 2016. Istanbul 23. High Criminal Court accepted the indictment on November 23, 2016.
The 31-page indictment claimed that Özgür Gündem functioned like the “media outlet of the PKK/KCK terrorist organization”. The individuals were claimed to be members of “PKK/KCK/HPG/MLKP/KONGRA-GEL” and this claim was supported with various stories published by the newspaper. Prosecutor, accusing the newspaper of being the “mouthpiece of the terrorist organization PKK/KCK”, made the following remarks about the newspaper’s writers and executives:
“Intentional involvement as a Publisher / Advisory Board Member in a newspaper that is the mouthpiece of the terrorist organization PKK/KCK means giving support to the ultimate goal of the organization and acting on behalf of the organization.”
The prosecutor included among the criminal evidence six books by Abdullah Öcalan and Duran Kalkan, as well as Abdullah Öcalan’s photo and eight publications found during the search of the newspaper office.
In the indictment, the prosecutor mentioned and cited from four articles by Aslı Erdoğan; stating that she, “portrayed terrorists as civilians”, criticized secırity forces’ operations against PKK, and “created the image that security forces massacred the civilian population”. The prosecutor then claimed based on these articles that Erdoğan “supported the ultimate goal of the terror group PKK/KCK and acted on behalf of it”.
The prosecutor cited Necmiye Alpay’s article titled “The Newspaper Creating its own Freedom” and dated June 5, 2016, and accused her for the phrase “The Özgür Gündem tradition is among the victims of the dirty war.” The prosecutor accused Necmiye Alpay of “defending and embracing the Özgür Gündem newspaper which functions like the media outlet of the terrorist organization”.
Four articles by Eren Keskin were mentioned in the indictment, which accused her of “spreading PKK/KCK propaganda,” “making militant declarations” and “trying to recruit supporters for the organization” with these articles. The indictment also stated that Keskin, who acted as Co-Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper for a while, did not know whether PKK/KCK leaders wrote articles for the newspaper under pseudonyms. When Eren Keskin wanted the expression “terrorist organization” to be struck out of her witness statement, indicating that as a human rights advocate she cannot use such an expression to describe any organization, the prosecutor accused her of being “the spin-doctor of the terrorist organization”.
Filiz Koçali and Ragıp Zarakolu were also accused for their articles in the indictment. The indictment also included the answers by Editor-in-Chief Bilir Kaya to the prosecutor’s questions as to why they published stories concerning the leaders of PKK/KCK. The indictment also featured answers by Bilir to a question about their news sources, and to another question about the books found in the newspaper’s office.
The indictment included İnan Kızılkaya’s testimony as to how he was insulted and battered by security forces while being taken into custody. Kızılkaya was accused of “supporting the ultimate goal of the organization and acting on behalf of the organization as attested by the fact that he is Managing Editor.”
The hearings started on December 29, 2016 at İstanbul 23. High Criminal Court. At the most recent hearing on July 3, 2019, the court accepted the prosecutor’s demand for more time for the drafting of the opinion as to the accusations and adjourned the trial until November 28, 2019.
In the last hearing of the case at November 28th, 2019, the prosecutor of the case was expected to present his opinion. However he was excused and the next hearing was set to January 13th, 2020.
The prosecutor’s office demanded that Aslı Erdoğan and Zana Bilir Kaya be sentenced for “spreading continuous propaganda for a terror organization via the media”, and Eren Keskin and İnan Kızılkaya for “membership of an armed terror organization”.
The prosecutor requested that Bilge Oykut Centepe and Necmiye Alpay be acquitted, and the files of Ragıp Zarakolu and Filiz Koçali be separated as they are abroad, and their statements were not taken.
The 16th hearing took place on February 14th, 2020. The court acquitted Bilge Oykut Contepe and Necmiye Alpay.
The court also acquitted Aslı Erdoğan from the charges of “disrupting the unity of the state and country,” and “membership of an armed terror organization”, and reached a decision of non-prosecution as regards the charge of “spreading continuous propaganda for a terror organization via the media”, as the lawsuit filed against Aslı Erdoğan on this latter charge had not been filed within the four-month period after the incident, as stipulated in the Press Law.
The court also ruled to separate the files of Ragıp Zarakolu and Filiz Koçali from the main case file, since they are abroad and their statements were not taken
“Özgür Gündem Newspaper Main Trial” – (The Separated File)
The files of Eren Keskin, İnan Kızılkaya, Zana Bilir Kaya and Kemal Sancılı were separated from the main case file in “Özgür Gündem Newspaper Main Trial”, for the drafting of their defense against the prosecutor’s judicial opinion as to the accusations.
The first hearing for this separated file was scheduled for May 15th, 2020; however, it was postponed due to the measures against the coronavirus outbreak.
The second hearing has been scheduled for September 9th, 2020.
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