Expression Interrupted

Journalists and academics bear the brunt of the massive crackdown on freedom of expression in Turkey. Scores of them are currently subject to criminal investigations or behind bars. This website is dedicated to tracking the legal process against them.

Three acquitted in Özgür Gündem trial

Three acquitted in Özgür Gündem trial

Court rules to separate the files of Eren Keskin, Zana Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı, granting additional time for their final defense statements


The “Özgür Gündem main trial,” where nine former editors, executives and members of the editorial advisory board of the shuttered newspaper Özgür Gündem were facing terrorism-related charges, resumed on 14 February 2020 at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.

This was the 16th hearing of the trial, which had been dragging along since December 2016.

Novelist Aslı Erdoğan, linguist Necmiye Alpay, journalists Filiz Koçali, Bilge Aykut, publisher and activist Ragıp Zarakolu, Özgür Gündem former co-editor-in-chief Zana (Bilir) Kaya, lawyer Eren Keskin, publisher Kemal Sancılı and responsible editor İnan Kızılkaya are accused of “disrupting the integrity of the state and the unity of the nation,” “membership of a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda” in the case. The pro-Kurdish daily was closed down in 2016 through a statutory decree issued under Turkey’s emergency rule.

P24 monitored the hearing. Kızılkaya, Keskin, Alpay, Kaya and Sancılı were in attendance with their lawyers.

HDP deputies Züleyha Gülüm and Ahmet Şık, CHP Deputy Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu, the President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV) Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Amnesty International’s Senior Campaigner on Turkey Milena Buyum also monitored the hearing.

Presenting the prosecution’s final opinion at the previous hearing, the prosecutor Hakan Gökalp Uçan had asked the court to convict Aslı Erdoğan and Zana Kaya of “terrorism propaganda” while seeking convictions for Eren Keskin, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı on the charge of “membership of a terrorist group.” The prosecutor had also asked the court to acquit Bilge Aykut and Necmiye Alpay of all charges and to separate the files of Ragıp Zarakolu and Filiz Koçali, whom the court has yet to hear.

Delivering her final defense statement, Eren Keskin said she didn’t agree with the final opinion. Emphasizing that she is a rights defender and not a member of a terrorist group, Keskin said: “I have never in my life touched a gun. I think differently than the official ideology concerning the Kurdish issue, the Armenian issue and the Cyprus affair. I have paid for this countless times.”

Keskin reiterated that she had her name in the newspaper’s masthead to lend support to the newspaper. Keskin said: “During the peace process, trials were not being launched and I was not a defendant then. I haven’t changed my position but the government is now all over the place. However, I’m the one who is being considered divisive and guilty and not the politics of the government. Our situation is in violation of the convention on human rights, of which Turkey is a signatory. According to the criteria the Supreme Court uses to establish terrorist organization membership, one must ‘hand over one’s will to the organization.’ Until now, I have never handed over my will to anyone. I am not a terrorist organization member, I am a human rights defender. I don’t owe any explanations to anyone for my opinions.”

Necmiye Alpay said: “Being acquitted in this case would not eliminate the previous convictions we received. The grounds for acquittal in the final opinion does not sufficiently and clearly cite freedom of expression and press freedom. An environment in which we can think and write without fear is what should be created. For this reason, I think that the decision and grounds for acquittal should be based on the principle of freedom.”

In his defense statement, Kemal Sancılı said: “Press Law clearly stipulates that the publisher cannot be held responsible for news reports that have a byline. However, I spent two years in prison as part of this trial.” Sancılı requested to be acquitted.

İnan Kızılkaya said that the government wanted to punish him because he “refused to do the kind of journalism they want.” “This is the criminalization of a profession,” he said, adding:  “Shutting down newspapers and punishing journalists is to bury the future of this country in darkness. Journalism is not a crime.”

Delivering his final defense statement, Zana Kaya said: “A journalist has the right to write stories and publish them. The goal here is for the public to learn the truth, not to spread propaganda. The only organization I am a member of is a journalists’ union. Even if the government is disturbed by this, the press acts as a watchdog over the government. I don’t think this justifies a politically motivated criminal case. I request to be acquitted.”

After the defendants, the lawyers delivered their final defense statements. Özcan Kılıç, the lawyer representing Sancılı, Kaya, Kızılkaya and Keskin, requested continuance for the preparation of his final defense statement.

Necmiye Alpay’s lawyer Adil Demirci requested the court to acquit his client in view of press freedom.

Erdal Erdoğan, the lawyer representing Aslı Erdoğan, read out the written defense statement of his client, who did not attend the hearing because she lives overseas. “My articles consisted of anti-violence political content. Five or six words plucked out of the text were used to accuse me. No matter who is being tried, extrajudicial punishment is a crime. I call on the court to protect universal conscience.”

After reading out Erdoğan’s statement, the lawyer addressed the court, saying: “The indictment was drafted after the expiry of the four-month statute of limitations for pressing charges and this is a press case. So the charges should be dropped on the grounds of judicial procedure.” Saying that criticism is not propaganda, Doğan requested Erdoğan’s acquittal.

Ragıp Zarakolu’s lawyer Sennur Baybuğa said she did not agree with the request to separate her client’s file. “Zarakolu has been living in the same address abroad. His statement could’ve been taken through a rogatory court,” she said.

The presiding judge asked Necmiye Alpay for her last words. Alpay requested to be acquitted.

Issuing their verdict after a brief recess for deliberation, the panel acquitted Necmiye Alpay and Bilge Aykut of all charges. The court also acquitted Aslı Erdoğan of “disrupting the unity and integrity of the state” and “terrorist group membership” and dropped the “propaganda” charge against her citing the expiry of the four-month statute of limitations for pressing charges as per Article 26/1 of Turkey’s Press Law.

The court separated the files of Zana Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya, Kemal Sancılı and Eren Keskin, granting all four additional time for their final defense statements, and also ruled to separate the files of Filiz Koçali and Ragıp Zarakolu, who are yet to give their statements and for whom arrest warrants are still in place.