Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin were accused of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization,” “incitement to commit crime” and “praising crime and criminals”

CANSU PİŞKİN, İSTANBUL 

The 11th hearing in the trial where Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), Erol Önderoğlu, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative, and journalist-writer Ahmet Nesin were accused of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization,” “incitement to commit crime” and “praising crime and criminals” for joining in the “substitute editor-in-chief” campaign for the shuttered Özgür Gündem newspaper was held on 17 July 2019. 

Fincancı and the lawyers representing all three defendants were in attendance at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. In addition to P24, the hearing was monitored by representatives from the EU Delegation to Turkey, the British Embassy, the International Press Institute (IPI), Article 19, Amnesty International, International Association of Writers (PEN) Norway, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkish Journalists Union (TGS), Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), and HDP Deputy Ahmet Şık. 

At the beginning of the hearing, the prosecutor reiterated his final opinion and requested Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin to be convicted of “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization,” “incitement to commit crime” and “praising crime and criminals.”

In response to the final opinion, Fincancı requested additional time to wait for the delivery of the Constitutional Court’s judgment on the application of Academics for Peace and the evaluation of the Judicial Reform Package that is supposed to come in force in September. The court rejected the request for additional time on the grounds that they had already granted continuance at the previous hearing.

Reminding the court that 3 years and 27 days had passed since the prosecution began, Fincancı said “I joined the substitute editor-in-chief campaign on 30 May 2016. When I went to the newspaper’s office, I saw on the walls the newspaper’s perpetually changing names. In order to retain its voice Özgür Gündem had to constantly change its name. Being a human rights defender I have performed my duty as a citizen and I used my right to freedom of expression. I do not accept your accusations.”

Addressing the court after Fincancı, Önderoğlu’s lawyer Tora Pekin said that they submitted a petition requesting to wait for the commencement of the Judicial Reform Package. Pekin said: “An early verdict will not benefit Turkey in any way. Let’s wait for the changes to be put in place, let’s wait for the Constitutional Court to render its judgment.”

The presiding judge interfered and said, “In the defense statements of the lawyers I sense that punishment is expected. Let’s continue the trial without waiting for the Constitutional Court and the Judicial Reform. We don’t always have to postpone and wait.” Pekin reiterated their previous defense statements and requested acquittal.

Önderoğlu’s lawyer Fikret İlkiz addressed the court and said: “None of the courts considered our objection pertaining to the prosecution being against the Constitution. And now you are saying we don’t have to wait for the Constitutional Court’s judgment. You raise the hopes of people by putting out there a promise of change with regard to freedom of expression. It is only natural for people to wait for this change to take place. If all these people come together to lend solidarity to a newspaper then all these convictions will be the punishment of this solidarity. The goal of this is to pressure. We request to wait for the Constitutional Court’s judgment.”

Ahmet Nesin’s lawyer Özcan Kılıç said: “At the last hearing I had requested the expansion of the investigation but since then your court has not made a single move. In addition to that, this file violates the principle of individual criminal responsibility. The defendants are being prosecuted over news stories they did not write.”

Fincancı’s lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu also emphasized the impact the Judiciary Reform Package will have on the trial. She added that since Özgür Gündem trials always conclude with convictions, the request for additional time was reasonable under these conditions.

The presiding judge said: “We are waiting on similar applications with the Constitutional Court but here we have reached a final decision that does not necessitate the Constitutional Court’s evaluation of the individual applications.” The panel rejected the request for additional time.

Asked for her last words before the verdict, Fincancı said: “I do not find the word acquittal to be appropriate. We are here for a crime we have not committed. This prosecution is a waste of time for you and for us. I am not guilty. If there is a crime to identify here I would like to repeat that the obstruction of freedom of expression itself is a crime.”

Issuing its verdict after a very brief recess, the court acquitted Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin of all charges.

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