Özgür Gündem Journalists Targeted by Criminal Investigation

Update: 15 Feb 2021 No state reply yet
Year 25 May 2016 Country Turkey Category Detention and imprisonment of journalists Source of threat State Partner EFJ/IFJ , Article 19 , AEJ , CPJ , Index , IPI , RSF Alert level Level 1
25 May 2016 Turkey Detention and imprisonment of journalists State EFJ/IFJ , Article 19 , AEJ , CPJ , Index , IPI , RSF Level 1
No state reply yet

On 18 May 2016 Turkish judicial authorities opened a criminal investigation against six journalists and trade unionists for participating in a solidarity campaign with the Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem. The journalists include Ertugrul Mavioglu, Faruk Eren, Ayse Düzkan, Mustafa Sönmez, Melda Onur and Erol Önderoglu. The Co-Editorship-in-Chief campaign was launched by Özgür Gündem daily on 3 May 2016 for World Press Freedom Day (#WPFD) where up to 16 journalists participated.Requests have been filed for the journalists and trade unionists to testify for articles that are being considered "terrorist propaganda" and an "incitement to crime" which were published whilst they participated in the solidarity campaign. On 20 June 2016, a prosecutor issued a warrant for the pre-trial arrest of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin. Following a court decision, all three journalists were arrested. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and Erol Önderoğlu, were released conditionally on 30 June 2016. On 1 July 2016, Ahmet Nesin was released pending trial. On 26 June 2016, journalists Nadire Mater, Yıldırım Türker, Tuğrul Eryılmaz and Faruk Balıkçı were the next four editors of Özgür Gündem to be questioned on "terrorist propaganda" charges for participating in the solidarity campaign with the newspaper. On 16 August 2016, a court in Istanbul ordered the closure of Özgür Gündem newspaper for spreading alleged "propaganda on behalf of the outlawed terrorist organisation". Shortly after the announcement of the newspaper’s closure by authorities, police raided its office in İstanbul’s Beyoğlu district. During the police raid, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Zana Kaya, journalists Günay Aksoy, Kemal Bozkurt, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Önder Elaldı, Ender Önder, Sinan Balık, Fırat Yeşilçınar, İnan Kızılkaya, Özgür Paksoy, Zeki Erden, Elif Aydoğmuş, Bilir Kaya, Ersin Çaksu, Mesut Kaynar, Sevdiye Gürbüz, Amine Demirkıran, Bayram Balcı, Burcu Özkaya, Yılmaz Bozkurt, Gülfem Karataş, Gökhan Çetin, Hüseyin Gündüz and Aslı Erdoğan were taken in custody by the authorities. Media freedom organisations condemned the violence of the detentions. (The total number of staff members detained had risen to 24, P24 reported on 16 August.) On 17 August 2016, following the closure of Özgür Gündem, the authorities raided the house of its advisory board member Ragip Zarakolu, a journalist, writer and editor known for his publishing work on minority rights in Turkey. The writer was not home but his books about Armenian, Pontus and Assyrian genocides have been confiscated by the authorities. Houses of journalists Eren Keskin and Filiz Koçali have also been raided by the police for similar purpose.

Updates

15 Feb 2021 : On 15 February 2021, the İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court convicted Zana Kaya of “terrorist propaganda” and sentenced him to 1 year and 13 months in prison. Kemal Sancılı, İnan Kızılkaya and Eren Keskin were convicted of “membership in a terrorist organization” and sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison each.
04 Feb 2021 : On 3 February 2021, the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court abode by the Appeals Court ruling of the Court of Appeals, which had overturned Şebnem Korur-Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin’s acquittals. It ordered that the cases of Korur-Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin be joined with the main case of Özgür Gündem, in which Eren Keskin, Zana Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı are standing trial before the İstanbul 23rd Heavy Penal Court. The next hearing is scheduled for 6 May 2021.
05 Nov 2020 : On 3 November 2020, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Court of Appeals overturned the acquittal issued in July 2019 for Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur-Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin on procedural grounds.
18 Feb 2020 : On 14 February 2020, the İstanbul 23rd High Criminal Court acquitted Aslı Erdoğan of "disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state" and "membership of a terrorist organisation." The charge of "disseminating terrorist propaganda" was dropped on procedural grounds. The court has acquitted Necmiye Alpay of all charges. It also ruled that the cases of Filiz Koçali and Ragıp Zarakolu, against whom a warrant was issued and who did not yet testify, shall be separated. The court further ruled that the cases of Zana (Bilir) Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya, Kemal Sancılı and Eren Keskin be separated due to their lawyers’ request for additional time to present the final defense.
29 Nov 2019 : On 28 November 2019, Istanbul 22nd High Criminal Court decided to adjourn Can Dündar's trial until 21 May 2020 pending execution of the arrest warrant issued against the journalist.
28 Oct 2019 : On 25 October 2019, Hüseyin Aykol was released, after his lawyer had requested a suspension of the execution of the sentence before the İstanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court. The court ordered the journalist to be released as changes in the law aimed at improving the freedoms of speech and the press that entered into force on 24 October 2019 opened the way for his retrial.
18 Oct 2019 : Kemal Sancılı, Özgür Gündem's former publisher, was released on 11 October 2019 after completing a 3-year sentence he was given in a previous case.The court overseeing the Özgür Gündem trial had ruled on 10 April 2019 to release Sancılı pending trial but he remained behind bars due to a previous conviction from a case against Demokratik Ulus — a pro-Kurdish weekly that used to be published by the company that also published Özgür Gündem. Kemal Sancılı, were released on 31 October 2017 in a trial concerning the newspaper’s publications. On 10 April 2020, issuing an interim decision at the end of the hearing, the court ruled for Kemal Sancılı’s release. However, Sancılı will remain behind bars due to a previous conviction by the 13th High Criminal Court.
16 Sep 2019 : Prosecution appealed the acquittal verdict of Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı. On 10 September 2019, the three defendants received a notice summoning them to appear before the Regional Court of Appeal to answer again to charges of "terrorist propaganda", "justifying crime", and "inciting crime".
18 Jul 2019 : On 17 July 2019, a Turkish court acquitted Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative for press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and journalist Ahmet Nesin of terrorism charges.
13 Jun 2019 : On 11 June 2019, Ayşe Düzkan was conditionally released from Eskişehir Prison.
04 Apr 2019 : On 3 April 2019, the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court, convicted Faruk Eren, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Fehim Işık, Celal Başlangıç, Öncü Akgül, İhsan Çaralan, Celalettin Can and Dilşah Kocakaya to one year and three months on charges related to "terrorist propaganda". Hüseyin Aykol, former editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem, was sentenced to three years and nine months on similar charges.
28 Feb 2019 : On 27 February 2019, the prosecutor asked the court to convict Erol Önderoğlu and co-defendants Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin on charges of “terrorist propaganda,” “condoning crime” and “inciting crime”.
04 Feb 2019 : On 31 January 2019, at its ninth hearing, the Istanbul 22nd High Criminal Court upheld the arrest warrant against Can Dündar. The court adjourned until 18 July 2019, pending completion of rogatory proceedings for Dündar’s defense to be taken in Germany.
30 Jan 2019 : On 29 January 2019, Ayşe Düzkan surrendered to authorities to serve an 18-month prison sentence handed down for serving as the symbolic editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem.
10 Dec 2018 : On 30 November 2018, the court of appeal upheld sentences of journalists Ayşe Düzkan, Ragıp Duran, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Hüseyin Bektaş and Hüseyin Aykol for “terrorism propaganda” in the Özgür Gündem trial.
12 Oct 2018 : On 10 October 2018, the Istanbul 13th Heavy Criminal Court adjourned the trial of three defendants (Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin) for the seventh time in nearly two years to wait for the execution of Ahmet Nesin's arrest warrant. The next hearing is scheduled for 28 January 2019, at which the prosecution is finally expected to present its summing-up and announce the sentences it wants the court to impose. On 11 October 2018, the trial of the other 11 defendants in the case was postponed to 17 January 2019. At the hearing, the Istanbul 23rd Heavy Penal Court ruled to lift the travel ban that had been imposed on Erin Keskin and decided to extend Kemal Sancılı’s detention pending trial.
08 Mar 2018 : On 6 March 2018, the 23rd High criminal court of Istanbul lifted the arrest warrant against Özgür Gündem advisory board member Ragıp Zarakolu on grounds that the court had been notified of his address of residence in Sweden where he now lives in exile. The trial was adjourned to 4th June.
19 Jan 2018 : On 16 January 2018, the 13th High Criminal Court in İstanbul convicted Ragıp Duran, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Ayşe Düzkan and Hüseyin Bektaş to 18 months in prison for spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization”. The Court convicted Hüseyin Aykol to three years and nine months.
31 Oct 2017 : On the fifth hearing in the main trial of Özgür Gündem daily held on 31 October 2017, the Court decided to release the managing Editor İnan Kızılkaya pending trial. The Court also placed him under an international travel ban. The next hearing will be on 6 March 2018.
08 Sep 2017 : On 7 September 2017, Aslı Erdoğan was given back her passport, after the travel ban imposed on her was lifted in June 2017.
28 Aug 2017 : Eren Keskin, former editor-in-chief of the Özgür Gündem daily, was released on 25 August 2016 after being referred to a court by prosecutors. She was then placed under a travel ban.
09 Jun 2017 : The fourth hearing in the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign trial took place at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court on 8 June 2017. Önderoğlu and Fincancı were in attendance, while Ahmet Nesin, who is abroad, was not present in the courtroom. The court adjourned the session until 26 December 2017 to wait for the implementation of the arrest order for Nesin and to obtain his defense statement.
03 Jan 2017 : On 22 December 2016, an arrest warrant was issued against journalist Can Dündar over his role in a solidarity campaign with the Özgür Gündem daily.
29 Dec 2016 : On 29 December 2016, Aslı Erdoğan was released and a travel ban was imposed on her pending trial.The hearing is set for 22 June 2017. Zana Kaya was also released.
14 Nov 2016 : On 10 November 2016, a prosecutor in Istanbul asked for life sentences for nine journalists and executives from Özgür Gündem. All nine defendants in the case, author Aslı Erdoğan, linguist Necmiye Alpay, journalists Ragıp Zarakolu, Bilge Contepe, Filiz Koçali, editor-in-chief Bilir Kaya, the holder of the newspaper’s publication rights, Kemal Sancılı, the paper’s Responsible Managing Editor İnan Kızılkaya and lawyer and former co-editor-in-chief Eren Keskin, are charged with “membership in a terrorist organisation,” “damaging the unity of the state,” “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organisation” and “establishing an organisation for the purpose of committing crime.”
18 Oct 2016 : On 23 August 2016, Özgür Gündem daily’s Editor-in-Chief Zana Kaya and Chief Editor İnan Kızılkaya were arrested on charge of being a member of an illegal organization. Kaya and Kızılkaya who denied the accusations have filed complaints against the police officers for having beaten them during their six-day detention.
22 Aug 2016 : 23 staff members of Özgur Gündem Daily have been released, according to EFJ. Journalist Aslı Erdoğan is the only one to be kept in detention to date.
18 Aug 2016 : A court in Istanbul ordered on 16 August 2016 the closure of Özgür Gündem newspaper for spreading alleged "propaganda on behalf of the outlawed terrorist organisation". Shortly after the announcement of the newspaper’s closure by authorities, police raided its office in İstanbul’s Beyoğlu district. During the police raid, the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Zana Kaya, journalists Günay Aksoy, Kemal Bozkurt, Reyhan Hacıoğlu, Önder Elaldı, Ender Önder, Sinan Balık, Fırat Yeşilçınar, İnan Kızılkaya, Özgür Paksoy, Zeki Erden, Elif Aydoğmuş, Bilir Kaya, Ersin Çaksu, Mesut Kaynar,Sevdiye Gürbüz, Amine Demirkıran, Bayram Balcı, Burcu Özkaya, Yılmaz Bozkurt, Gülfem Karataş, Gökhan Çetin, Hüseyin Gündüz and Aslı Erdoğan were taken in custody by the authorities. Media freedom organisations condemned the violence of the detentions. Following the closure of Özgür Gündem, the authorities raided the next day (17 August) the house of Ragip Zarakolu, a journalist, writer and editor known for his publishing work on minority rights in Turkey. The writer was not home but his books about Armenian, Pontus and Assyrian genocides have been confiscated by the authorities. Houses of journalists Eren Keskin and Filiz Koçali have also been raided by the police for similar purpose. The total number of staff members detained had risen to 24, P24 reported on 16 August.
01 Jul 2016 : On 1 July 2016, Ahmet Nesin was freed. His release is also conditional. Charges against him are still outstanding.
30 Jun 2016 : Turkey Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) Chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu, who were arrested on charge of "terrorist propaganda" for participating in Özgür Gündem daily's Editor-in-Chief solidarity campaign were released conditionally on 30 June 2016. Charges are still outstanding and indictments (propagandizing for a [terrorist] organization and praising a crime and criminals) have been accepted by Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court. The first hearing is to be held on 11 November 2016.
29 Jun 2016 : On 26 June 2016, journalists Nadire Mater, Yıldırım Türker, Tuğrul Eryılmaz and Faruk Balıkçı were the next four editors of Özgür Gündem to be questioned on "terrorist propaganda" charges for participating in the solidarity campaign with the newspaper.

Follow-ups

28 Oct 2019 : OSCE Media Freedom Representative welcomes release of several journalists in Turkey, calls for further reforms that ensure better legal protection.
24 Jul 2019 : OSCE Media Freedom Representative welcomes acquittal of Turkish journalists Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and human rights defender Şebnem Korur Fincancı.
04 Apr 2019 : OSCE Media Freedom Representative says sentencing journalists to prison greatly damages media freedom in Turkey following Özgür Gündem trial.
04 Apr 2019 : Sentencing journalists to prison greatly damages media freedom in Turkey, says OSCE Media Freedom Representative.
10 Dec 2018 : OSCE Representative is alarmed that Turkey appeals court upheld sentences of journalists Ayşe Düzkan, Ragıp Duran, Mehmet Ali Çelebi, Hüseyin Bektaş and Hüseyin Aykol for “terrorism propaganda” in the Özgür Gündem trial. Journalistic activities and solidarity are not crimes.
20 Apr 2018 : OSCE Media Freedom Representative declared that interim decision to prolonge trial of Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem editors, including Erol Önderoglu, Ahmet Nesin and Sebnem Korur Fincanci means chilling effect these trials impose on journalists will continue in Turkey and urged for acquittal so they can continue their work freely.
15 Feb 2017 : Human Rights Commissioner : Urgent measures are needed to restore freedom of expression in Turkey
20 Jun 2016 : CoE Commissioner for Human Rights appalled by detention of human rights defenders in Turkey will take this up with the authorities.
20 Jun 2016 : OSCE Representative appalled by imprisonment of two journalists and a human rights activist in Turkey, urges their release

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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

14 January 2016