Özgür Gündem Trials – The Editors-in-Chief on Watch Campaign – Erol Önderoğlu
Erol Önderoğlu
Print Media
Editor / Editor-In-Chief
Right to Impart Information and Ideas
Judicial Interference
Criminal Courts
Decision of acquittal
Anti-Terror Law
Art. 7/2

Standing trial for having participated in the “Editors-in-Chief on Watch” campaign in solidarity with the closed Özgür Gündem newspaper, Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin have been acquitted. Public prosecutor appealed to the decision.

The final hearing of the case, where the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Representative to Turkey and BİA Media Monitoring Reporter Erol Önderoğlu, writer Ahmet Nesin and Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) Chair Prof. Dr. Şebnem Korur-Fincancı have been tried, was held at the İstanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court on July 17. They had been charged with allegedly “propagandising for a terrorist organisation” and faced up 14 years 6 months of imprisonment.

Trial Process

RSF Representative to Turkey Erol Önderoğlu, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV-HRFT) Chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı and writer Ahmet Nesin, who were the Editors-in-Chief on Watch of daily Özgür Güdndem, were arrested on June 20, 2016. While Önderoğlu and Fincancı were released 10 days later on June 30, Nesin was released on July 1, 2016.

Announcing its final verdict, the court has ruled that defendants Şebnem Korur-Fincancı, Ahmet Nesin and Erol Önderoğlu shall be acquitted of the charges “propagandizing for a terrorist organization”, “openly inciting to commit crimes” and “praising the crime and the criminal.”

Özgür Gündem Trials

The Editors-in-Chief on Watch campaign of Özgür Gündem daily had begun on May 3, 2016 and ended on August 7, 2016. Daily was closed through the Statutory Decree No. 675 issued under the State of Emergency.

Investigations have been launched against 50 of the 56 Editors-in-Chief on Watch who have participated in the campaign. In 11 of these cases, the court has ordered not to prosecute and in 38 cases, a lawsuit has been brought. One case has been dismissed due to expiration of the Statute of Limitation in the investigation

Relying on the Articles 7(2) and 6(2) of the Anti-Terror Law No. 3713, the 38 Editors-in-Chief on Watch have stood trial on the charge of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization” and for “publishing and spreading statements of terrorist organizations.

On November 3, 2020, the 3rd Penal Chamber of the Court of Appeals reversed the ruling of acquittal given in July 2019 for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Representative Erol Önderoğlu, Turkish Medical Association (TTB) Chair Şebnem Korur Fincancı and journalist Ahmet Nesin, who had served 10 days behind bars for joining the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign (November 3).

The retrial will begin on February 3, 2021 (November 13).

The court has abided by the reversal of the appeals court and ruled that a letter shall be addressed to the related authority so that the files of Şebnem Korur-Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin will be merged with the file of the Özgür Gündem main case heard by the İstanbul 23rd Heavy Penal Court where Eren Keskin, Zana Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı are standing trial. The next hearing will be held on May 6 (February 3). 

The second hearing of the retrial scheduled for May 6, 2021 was adjourned until September 30 as part of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak measures (May 5).

At the hearing held on September 30, 2021, Erol Önderoğlu and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who attended the hearing, said that they did not have a new statement in addition to their previous statements. The court ruled that an instruction should be written to take the defense statement of Ahmet Nesin, who was abroad, and a notice should be issued to hear witness İnan Kızılkaya. The next hearing will be held on February 1, 2022 (September 30).

At the hearing held on February 1, 2022, the court board ruled that the deficiencies in the file should be rectified. The next hearing will be held on June 14 (February 1).

Erol Önderoğlu raised a request for recusal after Murat Bircan, a member of the court board of the İstanbul 13th High Criminal Court, which sentenced Osman Kavala to aggravated life imprisonment and seven defendants to 18 years in prison, turned out to have been nominated as a Samsun MP candidate from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).

In their petition to the upper court where they raised a request for recusal in the Özgür Gündem trial, Önderoğlu’s lawyers Fikret İlkiz and Tora Pekin wrote that “they were suspicious about the impartiality of Murat Bircan”. The lawyers’ petition also listed the statement of Bircan to news website during his candidacy along with his other statements to the press expressing his allegiance to President and AKP Chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Fikret İlkiz and Tora Pekin raised their appeal to the upper court, namely the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court, which was headed by judge Akın Gürlek, who did not abide by Constitutional Court rulings, penalized opposition politicians and rights defenders and filed lawsuits against the journalists who had reported news about him. Akın Gürlek rejected the request for recusal (June 6).

At the hearing held on June 14, the court ruled that the return of the letters rogatory about Ahmet Nesin should be awaited. The next hearing will be held on October 19 (June 14).

At the hearing held on October 19, 2022, the court ruled that the case file should be sent to the upper court so that the request for recusation would be reviewed. The next hearing will be held on February 1, 2023 (October 19).

At the hearing held on February 1, 2023, the court adjourned the trial by indicating that the request for recusation made against judge Murat Bircan at the previous hearing was rejected (February 1).