New York, June 20, 2016—Authorities should immediately release and drop all charges against two human rights defenders and a journalist arrested in Istanbul, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court in Istanbul today ordered Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), and two other people arrested on terrorism charges in connection with articles in embattled newspaper Özgür Gündem.
Istanbul’s Second Criminal Court of Peace ordered Önderoğlu’s arrest, alongside that of journalist and writer Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, an academic and a president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, on charges of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] group,” press accounts. RSF said Önderoğlu was charged in connection with the newspaper’s May 18 coverage of fighting between ethnic-Kurdish youth and security forces. The three are among 44 journalists and activists who have served as co-editor of the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper for a day to protest authorities’ repeated judicial harassment of the newspaper and its staff. Önderoğlu’s, Nesin, and Fincancı are in custody pending trial. A CPJ correspondent was at the courthouse.
“Erol Önderoğlu’s only ‘crime’ was showing solidarity with a newspaper whose staff has been subject to a relentless campaign of legal harassment,” said CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia senior research associate, Muzaffar Suleymanov. “We call on Turkey to release Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin, and Şebnem Korur Fincancı immediately, and to drop charges against all those prosecuted for participating in the campaign or for their work at the newspaper.”
Prosecutors regularly charge Özgür Gündem’s staff with making propaganda for the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which Turkey classes as a terrorist organization, and related charges for the newspaper’s coverage of fighting between ethnic-Kurds and security forces in Turkey’s southeast. Since May 3, 2016, World Press Freedom Day, 44 Turkish journalists and activists have taken turns symbolically acting as co-editor of the newspaper as a show of solidarity, according to press reports. To date, prosecutors have opened criminal investigations into at least 37 participants in the campaign.
“Jailing a world-renowned journalist and human rights defender such as Erol sends a very powerful signal of intimidation to the entire profession in Turkey. It’s a new, unbelievable low for press freedom in Turkey,” Johann Bihr, head of the Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk at RSF, told CPJ.
Prosecutors interrogated four other people today for acting as guest editors of Özgür Gündem, the daily newspaper Evrensel reported. Cengiz Boysoy, İhsan Eliaçık, Beyza Üstün, and Kemal Can, a contributor to the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, were also questioned on suspicion of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to Evrensel.
Istanbul’s 14th Court of Serious Crimes is scheduled to try journalist and author Ertuğrul Mavioğlu on September 29, on charges arising from his having acted as the co-editor of Özgür Gündem’s May 10, 2016, edition, Mavioğlu told CPJ.
According to the indictment, which the journalist shared with CPJ, Mavioğlu and Özgür Gündem News Editor İnan Kızılkaya will stand trial on charges of “openly provoking [the people] to commit crimes,” “praising a crime and a criminal,” and “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
At least 14 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey on December 1, 2015, when CPJ last conducted its annual census of journalists jailed around the world.
CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.