Turkey Representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Erol Önderoğlu, writer Ahmet Nesin and Chairperson of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TIHV) Prof. Şebnem Korur Fincancı were arrested on June 20, 2016 on the grounds that they had participated in the “Editor-in-Chief on Watch” campaign organized to show solidarity with the newspaper Özgür Gündem. Önderoğlu and Korur Fincancı were released on June 30, 2016 and Nesin on July 1, 2016.
On June 21, 2016, the Public Prosecutor Eşref Durmuş drafted three indictments of 3 pages each, and accused the three journalists of “praising the crime and criminal”, “inciting to commit crime” and “propaganda for a terrorist organization”.
The trial began on November 8, 2016 at the 13. High Criminal Court of Istanbul located in Çağlayan.
In its opinion as to the accusations submitted at the 9. hearing on February 27, 2019, the prosecutor requested that all three journalists be sentences for all the crimes attributed.
At the 11. and final hearing of the case held at the 13. High Criminal Court of Istanbul on July 17, 2019, all three journalists were acquitted.
However, on the same day, the prosecutor Abdullah Gül, filed an appeal on the grounds that the verdict of acquittal was unlawful. The court of appeal has yet to rule on the verdict.
Önderoğlu, Fincancı, Nesin - Özgür Gündem Davası (İddianame)
Önderoğlu, Fincancı, Nesin - Özgür Gündem Davası (İddianame)
Önderoğlu, Fincancı, Nesin - Özgür Gündem Davası (İddianame)
Önderoğlu, Fincancı, Nesin - Özgür Gündem Davası (Savunma)
Didim Özgür Ses Newspaper and Mavi Didim Newspaper published a press release dated January 21, 2018 by the Didim District Organisation of the political party EMEP, which criticized the Turkish Armed Forces operation into the Syrian city of Afrin.
Didim Police Department conducted an examination and reached the conclusion that Mavi Didim and Özgür Ses newspapers’ publication on January 24, 2018 of EMEP Didim District Organization’s press release titled “Halt to the Afrin operation: Stop bombing the fraternity among peoples in Afrin and dragging Turkey into a possible regional war” could involve elements of crime.
As a result, an investigation was launched against Didim Özgür Ses newspaper’s owner Mustafa Öge, Mavi Didim Gazetesi newspaper’s owner Ergün Korkmaz, journalist Erdem Özden as well as the president of EMEP Didim District Organization on the grounds of the press release criticizing the Turkish army’s Afrin operation as published in the two newspapers on January 24, 2018.
The prosecutor stated that the press release published by the said newspapers spread black propaganda by criticizing the Turkish military operation into Afrin.
The indictment drafted by Didim Public Prosecutor Köksal Sekmen at the end of the investigation was completed on February 13, 2018 and accepted by the 1. Criminal Court of First Instance. A lawsuit was duly filed.
Although he referred to the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights on freedom of expression in his indictment, the prosecutor stated that all the defendants “incited the populace to hatred and enmity” as per Turkish Penal Code, Article 216/1
The first hearing was held on June 22, 2018, and the defendants presented their defense. Stating that they had no criminal intent, the journalists demanded their acquittal arguing that they publish the statements not only of EMEP but of all political parties. The defense lawyers stated that the publication of the press release in question represented no crime as alleged by the prosecutor, and that it was a part of journalistic activities designed to inform the public at large. Defense lawyer Ali İhsan Aktimur underlined that the news coverage about the said press release fell within the scope of the freedom of press.
All of the defendants were acquitted at the final hearing on April 9, 2019.
Özden, Korkmaz - Didim Afrin Açıklaması Davası (İddianame)
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 Umut Tepe 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 Tepe, 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 on Kurdish political history 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.
Özgür Gündem Ana Davası (İddianame)
On August 16, 2016, Istanbul 8. Criminal Court of Peace ordered that Özgür Gündem newspaper be shuttered for “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”.
On the day of the court order for closing down the newspaper, the newspaper building was raided by the police. While the police searched the building, they disrupted the IMC TV team who were doing a live broadcast. Twenty-two people including newspaper editors, the editor-in-chief and IMC TV reporters who were there for an interview were beaten and detained, with their hands handcuffed behind their back. The individuals in custody were released after their statements were taken by prosecutors on August 28, 2016.
The indictment was drafted by Istanbul Public Prosecutor Fazıl Arslanalp, and was accepted by Istanbul 5. Criminal Court of First Instance; a lawsuit was filed against 22 people, 17 of whom were journalists. Three police officers from Anti-Terror Branch who took part in the raid figured as complainants in the indictment.
The police officers who participated in the raid were heard at the court as complainants and witnesses. The confiscated materials belonging to the detained journalists have still not been returned.
The next hearing will be held on February 25, 2020.
Özgür Gündem Baskını - “Polise Direnme ve Hakaret” Davası (İddianame)
The cases where the shuttered Özgür Gündem newspaper’s co-editors-in-chiefs, managing editor, and six contributors were tried on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization”, “praising the crime and criminal” and “explicitly inciting to crime” were merged.
On October 26, 2017, the Prosecutor’s Office requested that the defendants Reyhan Çapan, Emire Eren Keskin and Hüseyin Aykol be sentenced for “spreading propaganda for an armed terrorist organization through the media and in a continuous manner”, and stated that the other defendants did not need to be sentenced.
Seven people were sentenced on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organization”, and eight were acquitted. the file of seven other people was separated from this case.
Özgür Gündem Yazarları ve Eş Yayın Yönetmenleri Davası (İddianame)
In the lawsuit where 14 employees of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi newspaper, which was closed on July 8, 2018 with Decree Law no. 701, stood trial, three journalists were sentenced to prison for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member”, and one journalist for “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” and “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”.
The arrest warrants against the defendants were issued on March 18, 2018. In the indictment drafted by Istanbul Public Prosecutor Uğur Kaan Arısoy, some news stories published in January, February and March 2018 were presented as criminal. All of these stories criticized the military operation by the Turkish Armed Forces into the Afrin region of Syria. The stories in question were “Savaş Çığırtkanlığına Hayır” (“No to Jingoism” - January 20, 2018), “Dünya Efrin Günü” (“World Afrin Day” - January 28, 2018) “Birlikteyiz Efrin’deyiz” (“We are together, we are in Efrin” - February 25, 2018), “Sur ve Kabataş’tan Sonra Efrin’de de Aynı Mizansen” (“The Scenario in Sur and Kabataş Reproduced in Efrin” - February 26, 2018), “Ateşkes Riyakarlığı” (“Cease Fire Hypocrisy” - February 28, 2018).
The newspaper’s editors Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Hicran Urun and İshak Yasul were each sentenced to 3 years, 1 month, 15 days for “aiding a terrorist organization”. Yasul was further sentenced to 1 year, 6 months, 22 days for “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. The files of the journalists Fırat Benli, Yılmaz Yıldız, Ersin Çaksu, Günay Aksoy and Önder Elaldı, for whom arrest warrants were issued, were separated from this case.
Özgürlükçü Demokrasi Davası (İddianame)