Defendants Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin face “terrorism propaganda” and “incitement” charges

The latest hearing in the trial of Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, academic Şebnem Korur-Fincancı and journalist and writer Ahmet Nesin for their participation in a campaign for solidarity with the now-defunct Özgür Gündem newspaper in the summer of 2016 was held on 27 February at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court.

Önderoğlu and Fincancı were present at the hearing, while Nesin, who lives in France, did not attend. Observers, including opposition lawmaker Ahmet Şık and representatives from RSF, Amnesty International and P24 also attended.

Presenting his final opinion on the case, the prosecutor requested that all three defendants be given prison sentences on charges of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, “incitement to commit crime” under Article 214/1 of the Turkish Criminal Code (TCK) and “praising crime and criminals” under Article 215/1 of the TCK. The combined prison term under the three charges is 14.5 years, although the prosecutor also requested the final term to be determined in accordance with Article 44 of the TCK, which states that in case a single act results in more than one offense, the offender is sentenced only for the offense that entails the longest term of sentence. “Terrorism propaganda” carries the most severe sentence among the three accusations made in the prosecutor’s final opinion, carrying a maximum sentence of 7.5 years in prison.

The prosecutor cited several article headlines published in Özgür Gündem on days when Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin acted as guest editors-in-chief of the daily. Their role was limited to a day only and was mostly symbolic. The newspaper was subsequently closed down under the state of emergency and several of its executives and journalists were put on trial on terrorism charges for content of the publication.

Defense lawyers objected to the final opinion, saying the prosecutor only listed the headlines of some articles published on days when the defendants guest-edited the paper, without assessing whether the content of those articles were criminal. Lawyers also requested the court to examine additional evidence to establish how long the defendants were in charge of the newspaper and whether their symbolic position could result in criminal liability. The court, however, rejected both the objections to the final opinion and the defense’s subsequent request to be examined before moving to verdict stage.

Önderoğlu and Fincancı did not make any statements, requesting time to examine the final opinion and present their final defense statements later.

The court adjourned the trial until 15 April to allow time for the defense statements to be prepared.