Istanbul, February 16, 2020 – Turkish authorities should cease prosecuting former staffers of the shuttered Özgür Gündem newspaper and not contest their appeals, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Yesterday, the 23rd Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes convicted three former editors and the former publisher of pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem on terrorism charges, and sentenced them to jail terms ranging from 25 months to more than six years, according to news reports.
The defendants are free pending their appeals, but are barred from leaving the country, reports said.
“Turkish authorities must end their vindictive prosecutions of former staffers of Özgür Gündem, and stop hunting down anyone who has shown sympathy for the shuttered newspaper,” said CPJ Deputy Executive Director Robert Mahoney. “Authorities should drop all remaining charges against the Özgür Gündem journalists, not contest their appeals, and allow them to live and work freely.”
The court found publisher Kemal Sancılı, responsible news editor İnan Kızılkaya, and co-chief editor Eren Keskin guilty of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization” and sentenced them each to six years and three months in prison, according to those reports. The court convicted co-chief editor Zana Kaya of “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization” and sentenced him to two years and one month in prison, those reports said.
In August 2016, police raided Özgür Gündem’s Istanbul offices and allegedly beat and mistreated its staffers in detention, and a court ordered the newspaper to cease operations over its purported ties to the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, as CPJ documented at the time.
Police took 22 people into custody during the raid, 17 of them journalists, and charged them all with “insulting a public servant” and “preventing a public servant from doing their duty,” in a court case that saw its most recent hearing today, according to reports.
In 2019, Keskin and other Özgür Gündem staffers were sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on propaganda charges, which remain under appeal, and Kızılkaya, who was legally responsible for all content published by the paper, has faced 105 criminal cases for his work, as CPJ has documented.
Authorities have also prosecuted journalists and activists who supported the newspaper in a solidarity campaign, including Reporters Without Borders Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu, whose retrial in that case began on February 3, as CPJ documented.
CPJ emailed the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for comment but did not immediately receive any reply.