Left to right: Ahmet Nesin, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu
A court in Istanbul acquitted Reporters Without Borders’ representative in Turkey Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation Chair Şebnem Korur and journalist Ahmet Nesin of all charges earlier today, 17 July 2019.
Responding to the news, Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, said:
Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur and Ahmet Nesin should have never been arrested and charged for taking part in a solidarity campaign for the now-closed pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem. They have been on trial for three years, in what amounted to judicial harassment.
While we welcome today’s verdict, which is a great victory for press freedom, we remain concerned by the continuing onslaught on freedom of expression in Turkey and by the sheer number of journalists detained, prosecuted and jailed simply for doing their job.
We call on the Turkish authorities to build on today’s judgment by ending the prosecution and detention of journalists on the basis of the content of their writing or alleged affiliation with banned groups in Turkey, and by immediately releasing all those held in prison for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression.
Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur and Ahmet Nesin were amongst 56 journalists and activists who took part in a solidarity campaign from May to August 2016 with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem, during which they took turns in acting as ‘editor for the day’. The campaign was intended to draw attention to the Turkish authorities’ long-standing attempts to put pressure on the publication and its reporters. Özgür Gündem was closed by emergency decree in October 2016.
Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur and Ahmet Nesin were arrested on 20 June 2016, with Erol Önderoğlu and Şebnem Korur provisionally released on 30 June 2016, and Ahmet Nesin provisionally released on 1 July 2016. All three were charged with ‘engaging in propaganda for a terrorist organization’, ‘incitement to commit a crime’ and ‘praising criminal activities and those engaged in them’ and faced up to 14.5 years behind bars. PEN International and scores of PEN Centres actively campaigned on their behalf, notably observing trial hearings.
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world, with at least 140journalists and media workers currently behind bars. Hundreds more remain on trial.