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Özgür Gündem Main Trial
September 9, 2020
Defendants: Eren Keskin, Zana Bilir Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya, Kemal Sancılı
Status: Filiz Koçali, Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay, Bilge Aykut (Acquitted)
Media Outlet and Position: Özgür Gündem – Co-editor-in-chiefs, editors and journalists
Accusations: Spreading terrorist propaganda; Membership of a terrorist organization; Disrupting the unity and territorial integrity of the state
Court: İstanbul 23. High Criminal Court
Possible sentence: –
Editors, journalists and columnists for the now-shuttered Özgür Gündem newspaper were brought to court on accusations of “overtly inciting a crime” and “terrorist propaganda” over the daily’s articles and reports.
The journalists are being tried for their participation in a solidarity campaign, titled “Editors-in-Chief on Watch”, on behalf of Özgür Gündem. There are three other on-going cases against Özgür Gündem, in which staff members and journalists are being tried for their participation in the “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign.
Aslı Erdoğan and Necmiye Alpay were previously detained in August 2016 and released on bail after over 4 months in jail. The travel bans on both journalists were lifted in June 2017. Erdoğan now lives in exile in Germany.
İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı each spent over 300 days in pretrial detention. Both journalists were released on bail on October 31, 2017. Sancılı was re-arrested in May 2018. Kızılkaya is reportedly facing over 90 filed lawsuits for his journalistic work in Özgür Gündem.
During a hearing on January 17, 2019, the court took up the cases of the co-Editors-in-Chief of Özgür Gündem, Eren Keskin and Zana Bilir Kaya, and Bilge Aykut, as well as author Aslı Erdoğan, philologist and editor Necmiye Alpay, human rights activist and publisher Ragıp Zarakolu, news editor İnan Kızılkaya, the owner of Özgürlükçü Demokrasi, Kemal Sancılı, and political party member Filiz Koçali.
Eren Keskin’s travel ban was lifted after the hearing. The court adjourned the case until April 10, 2019, for digital materials to be examined. The court also ruled for the continuation of Sancılı’s detention.
On March 29, 2019, the daily’s co-Editors-in-Chief Eren Keskin and Managing Editor Reyhan Çapan, were sentenced to 7.5 years in prison each on charges of “insulting the President and state institutions”, in relation to three reports published in Özgür Gündem in 2015.
On April 10, 2019, Kemal Sancılı argued that he was not responsible for transmitting the examined digital materials, and requested he be discharged. Though the court granted his release, he was not freed due to sentencing in another case. On October 11, Sancılı was released following his lawyer’s appeal. He was the only defendant who has remained in detention throughout the course of this case.
During the hearing on July 3, 2019, the public prosecutor requested additional time to prepare his final statement. The court accepted his request and adjourned until November 28, 2019.
During the hearing on November 28, only Eren Keskin, Necmiye Alpay and İnan Kızılkaya were among the defendants present in the courtroom. An IPI delegation also observed the the trial. Keskin stated that this case is preventing journalists from doing their work and carrying on with their daily lives considering that it has gone on for more than three years and requested the prosecutor’s final opinion. The court adjourned the hearing until January 13, 2020, due to the prosecutor being on annual leave.
On the January 13 hearing, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, requesting sentencing for Aslı Erdoğan and Zana Kaya on “terrorist propaganda,” for İnan Kızılkaya, Kemal Sancılı and Eren Keskin on “membership of a terrorist organization” while asking Bilge Aykut and Necmiye Alpay to be acquitted. The court adjourned the trial to February 14.
During February 14 hearing, Alpay, Erdoğan and Aykut were acquitted of all charges. The court separated the files of defendants Keskin, Kızılkaya, Kaya and Sancılı.
Two of the defendants, Kızılkaya and Sancılı, were being tried separately in another case on charges of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization”. During the hearing on December 10 in this case, the defense lawyers requested the file to be merged with the Özgür Gündem main trial where both journalists are also defendants based on the law banning repetitive trials. According to Turkish law, the ban of repetitive trials prohibits same defendants to be tried simultaneously on the same charges. The court ruled to send the case-files over to the Regional Court to resolve the merger dispute.
The cases are merged and to resume as under file known as “Özgür Gündem Main Trial”. The next hearing will be held on May 15.
The 11th hearing on May 15, 2020, where Zana Bilir Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya, Eren Keskin and Kemal Sancılı will be tried as defendants was postponed due to suspension of all judicial proceedings in May because of COVID-19 pandemic. The next hearing will take place on September 9, 2020.