Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, an academic and the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), was arrested by an Istanbul court on 20 June 2016 for participating in a solidarity campaign launched for the shuttered pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.
An investigation was launched into Fincancı for standing in as the editor-in-chief of the daily for a day as part of the “Co-Editor-in-Chief on Watch Campaign,” which began on 3 May 2016, World Press Freedom Day, and lasted for 100 days. Fincancı was jailed pending trial on the charge of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” after giving her statement at the Istanbul Courthouse.
Two separate indictments were issued on 22 June against Fincancı, Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu and writer Ahmet Nesin, both of whom were also detained and jailed pending trial as part of the same investigation.
The indictment against Fincancı and Önderoğlu was sent to the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul while the one against Nesin was sent to the 14th High Criminal Court. Nesin’s case file was later merged with the case against Fincancı and Önderoğlu on the grounds of the “legal and de facto connection” between the cases. The responsible managing editor of Özgür Gündem, İnan Kızılkaya, was a suspect in both indictments due to his responsibility regarding all news material published in the daily.
The indictments accuse Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin of “openly inciting to committing crimes,” “praising crime and criminals” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” as per article 7/2 of the Law on Fight Against Terrorism (TMK) and article 214 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which accepted the indictment, ruled in favor of the objection to Fincancı and Önderoğlu’s detentions on remand, ordering their release. Fincancı was released pending trial from the Bakırköy Women’s Prison on 30 June 2016, after spending 10 days in pretrial detention.
The first hearing of the trial into Fincancı and her co-defendants was held on 8 November 2016 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
While Fincancı and Önderoğlu were present at the courtroom, Nesin and Kızılkaya did not attend the hearing.
In her written defense statement presented to the court, Fincancı rejected the accusations.
Fincancı told the court that she willingly participated in the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign as a human rights defender during a time when the newspaper and its staff were undergoing investigations and detentions.
The court rejected the lawyers’ requests for acquittal, adjourning the trial until 11 January 2017.
Fincancı and Önderoğlu were in attendance at the second hearing on 11 January, where Nesin was unable to attend for being overseas. During the hearing, Kızılkaya’s file was separated and merged with the main Özgür Gündem trial. The court postponed the trial until 21 March 2017, awaiting Nesin’s defense statement.
At the end of the third hearing, the court issued an arrest warrant for Nesin for his defense statement to be taken, and adjourned the trial until 8 June 2017.
At the end of the fourth hearing, the court ruled to await for the execution of the arrest warrant against Nesin and send an order to Nesin’s overseas address, and adjourned the trial until 26 December 2017.
Addressing the court during the fifth hearing on 26 December, Fincancı expressed her concern over the trial. “I find the judiciary’s approach and its restrictive attitude worrying as a human rights defender,” she told the court.
Reminding the expert opinions submitted to the court by RSF and Article 19, defense lawyers reiterated their request to apply to the Constitutional Court for the abolition of the TCK article 214 that serves as the grounds for the accusations.
In its interim ruling, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul rejected the defense lawyers’ request and ruled to await for the execution of the arrest warrant against Nesin. The court set 18 April 2018 as the date for the next hearing.
The next hearing in the trial took place on 18 April 2018 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Fincancı, Önderoğlu and their lawyers were present at the hearing, where Nesin did not attend. Noting that Nesin, who lives abroad, still hasn’t given a defense statement despite an arrest order, the court adjourned the trial until 9 October 2018.
On 9 October, the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul heard the seventh hearing in the case. The court adjourned the trial until 28 January 2019, awaiting an expert report on Nesin’s defense statement and the execution of a warrant for his arrest.
Fincancı and Önderoğlu as well as defense lawyers were in attendance at the next hearing on 28 January. At the beginning of the hearing, the court added Ahmet Nesin’s defense statement that was taken abroad and translated into Turkish from its original in French to the case file, thus enabling for the arrest warrant against Nesin to be lifted.
In its interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court lifted the arrest warrant for Nesin, ruled for the case file to be handed over to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion of the case, and set 27 February 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
Önderoğlu and Fincancı as well as defense lawyers were in attendance in the courtroom for the next hearing on 27 February, while Nesin, who lives in France, did not attend.
The prosecution submitted their final opinion of the case during the hearing, requested prison sentences on the 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 TCK and “praising crime and criminals” under Article 215/1 of the TCK for all three defendants. 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 has the longest prison 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.
Neither Önderoğlu nor Fincancı made any statements during the hearing. The court adjourned the trial until 15 April 2019 to allow time for the defense statements to be prepared.
Academics for Peace trial
Fincancı is also standing trial on the charge of “conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization” in a separate case for signing the Academics for Peace petition in January 2016, titled “We will not be a party to this crime.”
The first hearing of this trial took place on 6 March 2018 at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. The court rejected Fincancı’s request for immediate acquittal and adjourned the trial until 4 October 2018.
At the end of the final hearing of this trial on 19 December 2018, the court convicted Fincancı of the “propaganda” charge and imposed on her a prison sentence of 2 years and 6 months. The sentence was not deferred.