OSCE media freedom representative urges acquittal of Turkish journalists Önderoğlu, Nesin and human rights defender Fincancı

Photo: PEN America

Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Teresa Ribeiro on Wednesday urged Turkish authorities to acquit journalists Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin, and human rights defender and physician Şebnem Korur Fincancı, ahead of the start of their retrial on September 30.

Önderoğlu, Nesin and Fincancı are standing trial for their one-time symbolic participation as guest editors-in-chief in a solidarity campaign with the now-shut-down pro-Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem. If convicted, they could each face up to 14 years, six months prison on terrorism-related charges.

“I deplore the renewed judicial harassment against Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, who once again have to face severe meritless terrorism-related charges, while risking a long and arduous judicial process, and possibly a lengthy prison sentence – only for exercising their right to freedom of expression five years ago,” Ribeiro said.

“To penalize expressions of collegial solidarity, by equating such acts with terrorism or criminal behaviour, goes beyond the principles of necessity and proportionality, and sends a chilling message on freedom of expression and media freedom in the country. I urge the authorities to acquit Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin of all charges brought against them and ensure an enabling environment for freedom of expression.”

After three years of judicial persecution, a lower court acquitted all three in 2019. During this trial period, they spent a significant period in pre-trial detention and faced numerous days in court before the judges reached their verdict. In October of last year, a regional court of appeals overturned the acquittal on procedural grounds and ordered a retrial. At the retrial, which starts on September 30, all three will face identical spurious charges of “propagandizing for a terrorist organization,” “openly inciting to commit crimes” and “praising the crime and the criminal.”

For more than 20 years, Önderoğlu has been a tireless advocate for media freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey, for which he received several awards in his country and abroad.

Turkish journalists are often targeted and jailed for their journalistic activities. Turkey is one of the world’s biggest jailers of professional journalists and ranked 153rd among 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are behind bars in Turkey and 167 are wanted and either in exile or at large.

In order to ensure effective protection of the fundamental human right to freedom of expression, Ribeiro encouraged the authorities to take concrete and meaningful steps to revise the widely interpreted national anti-terrorism laws in Turkey and bring these in line with OSCE commitments and international standards, including the case law of the European Court of Human Rights.

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