The International Press Institute (IPI) calls for the immediate acquittal of Erol Önderoğlu, an IPI member and the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative, as well as his two co-defendants, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin, ahead of their retrial in Turkey on February 3, 2021 on terrorism-related charges.

Önderoğlu, a journalist and respected press freedom campaigner, and his two co-defendants are charged as part of their participation in a solidarity campaign for the pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem shut down in 2016 by an emergency decree. All three were acquitted by a lower court in July 2019. However, a regional court of appeals overturned that decision on October 20, 2020.

“The continued legal harassment of Erol Önderoğlu and his fellow defendants underscores yet again that the Turkish judicial system has been instrumentalized to serve the government’s crackdown on press freedom and freedom of expression”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “This is an outrageous, meritless case whose only purpose is to intimidate those who speak out in defence of fundamental rights in Turkey. IPI and its members around the world stand in solidarity with Erol.”

IPI Executive Board member and Turkey National Committee Chair Kadri Gürsel also condemned the retrial of his colleague. “The initial trial of Erol Önderoğlu for being a guest editor of Özgür Gündem for one day only was aimed at punishing the solidarity around press freedom. The overturning of the acquittals by the İstanbul Regional Court of Appeals has once again confirmed that the rare show of solidarity among journalists will not be tolerated”,  Gürsel said. “I hope that the court will insist on its previous acquittal verdicts in this retrial and embarrass us for expecting otherwise.”

Özgür Gündem, which had been frequently targeted for its reporting on the clashes between the Turkish military and Kurdish armed forces, was first temporarily closed in August 2016 and then permanently shut down by an emergency decree in October 2016. Thirty-seven out of the 56 journalists, editors and human rights defenders who participated in a solidarity campaign in which they acted as “guest editor-in-chief” of the newspaper for one day between May 3 and August 7, 2016, were later put on trial.

The prosecution of journalists Önderoğlu, Nesin and Korur Fincancı, then chair of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, began in November 2016 on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda and praising a crime or criminals.

On July 17, 2019, Önderoğlu, Fincancı, and Nesin were acquitted of all charges. However, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of İstanbul Regional Court of Appeals overturned the acquittal verdicts on October 20, 2020 on the grounds that the first instance court did not pay sufficient attention to the defendants’ alleged intent to publish the content, and requested a re-examination. The first hearing of the re-examination will be held on February 3, 2021.

IPI calls for this legal harassment, which has been continuing for years, to end immediately. With the regional court’s decision to overturn the acquittals, the trial once again risks being dragged out for many years. This case should be concluded with an immediate acquittal during the first hearing on February 3, 2021.

IPI also participated in the joint video campaign initiated by RSF to show solidarity and support for Erol Önderoğlu and his colleagues: “IPI supports Erol”.