Aslı Erdoğan

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Police detained Erdoğan, a novelist, scientist, columnist, and member of the shuttered daily newspaper Özgür Gündem‘s advisory board, at her home in Istanbul on August 16, 2016. Istanbul’s Fourth Court of Penal Peace on August 19, 2016, arraigned her on charges of “disrupting the unity of the state and the integrity of the country,” and “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” and ordered her jailed, pending trial.

CPJ examined the records of Erdoğan’s interrogation by prosecutors and police, the court’s order to jail her pending trial, the police report on the search of her house, and her lawyer’s appeal of the court order jailing her pending trial.

Erdoğan told prosecutors and the court that her contributions to Özgür Gündem were about literature and sociology, not politics. She denied being a member of a terrorist organization. She said that her place on the newspaper’s board was a “formality,” and that she had no input on the newspaper’s editorial policy.

Her lawyers unsuccessfully argued that she could not be held responsible for the newspaper’s content because Turkey’s press laws make editors-in-chief and responsible news editors responsible for a newspaper’s content, according to the records of the arraignment. Her lawyers also emphasized that her articles for the newspaper were not about politics.

When prosecutors asked her about books and magazines police found when they raided and sealed Özgür Gündem‘s office on August 16, 2016-implementing a court’s order to close the newspaper on charges of incitement, terrorism, and separatism-Erdoğan responded that she had been to the newspaper’s office only once, to participate in a campaign that saw dozens of journalists, academics, activists, and public figures take turns symbolically acting as co-editors of the newspaper for a day to protest the persistent judicial harassment of the newspaper’s staff.

Prosecutors submitted an indictment against Erdoğan and eight other Özgür Gündem journalists and staff to Istanbul’s 23rd Court for Serious Crimes on November 12, 2016, according to press reports. Prosecutors asked the court to sentence Erdoğan and the eight others to life in prison on the charge of “disrupting the unity of the state and the integrity of the nation,” in addition to 17 years and six months in prison for each additional charge of “being a member of an armed terrorist organization,” and “making propaganda for a [terrorist] organization,” according to press reports.

On November 23, 2016, however, the same court dropped two of the charges against Erdoğan and retained only the charge of membership in a terrorist organization, according to press reports.

Erdoğan reported health problems when she was first detained, but the conditions of her detention and her health have improved since, her lawyers told CPJ.

As of late 2016 no date had been set for Erdoğan’s trial, her lawyer told CPJ.