Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of Reporters Without Borders and editor of Bianet is facing a retrial on terrorism charges along with two other press freedom advocates. (Photo: Erol Önderoğlu)

Turkey to begin retrial of RSF representative, other press freedom advocates on terrorism charges

Istanbul, February 1, 2021 – Turkish authorities should immediately drop all charges against the journalists and press freedom advocates currently facing a second trial on trumped-up terrorism charges, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On February 3, the Thirteenth Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes is scheduled to begin hearings in the retrial of Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative of the international press freedom group Reporters Without Borders and editor of the Bianet independent news website; Şebnem Korur Fincancı, a columnist for the leftist daily Evrensel and chair of the Turkish Medical Association trade union; and Ahmet Nesin, a columnist for the online leftist newspaper Artı Gerçek, according to Reporters Without Borders and news reports.

The three are accused of promoting terrorist propaganda in their work with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem in 2016; they were acquitted in 2019 but government prosecutors appealed that acquittal, according to those reports and CPJ reporting at the time.

If convicted, the defendants could face up to 14 years in prison, according to those reports.

“Turkish authorities should stop pursuing baseless terrorist propaganda charges against Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and Ahmet Nesin,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “As press freedom advocates and columnists, the three should have never been prosecuted in the first place; they did nothing but peacefully stand up for basic human rights. Turkish authorities should not insist on punishing those who demand a free press.”

In 2016, dozens of journalists and press freedom activists became honorary editors-in-chief of Özgür Gündem for one day each, as a show of solidarity with the newspaper, as CPJ documented at the time; since then, authorities have questioned all the participants in that campaign, and filed terrorist propaganda charges in at least 38 cases.

Authorities briefly jailed Önderoğlu, Fincancı, and Nesin in 2016, and then released them pending trial; authorities accused Özgür Gündem of propagandizing for the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, and shuttered the newspaper later in 2016, as CPJ documented.

In July 2019, the three defendants were acquitted; authorities appealed, and in November 2019 an Istanbul appeals court allowed a retrial to move forward, according to reports by Bianet.

CPJ emailed the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for comment, but did not immediately receive any reply.