Turkey: Drop charges against journalists for their legitimate free expression work

Turkey: Drop charges against journalists for their legitimate free expression work

An earlier version of this statement appeared on PEN International's website.

On July 1, 2016, Istanbul’s 14th Court of Serious Crimes ordered the release, pending trial, of Cumhuriyet columnist Ahmet Nesin. This release comes days after Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey Representative and Bianet reporter Erol Önderoğlu and the president of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation (TİHV) Şebnem Korur Fincancı were also released. The charges against all three remain. PEN Center USA welcomes the release of the three, but urges Turkey to drop the charges against them.

The two journalists were arrested along with Şebnem Korur Fincancı on June 20, 2016, and charged with "terrorist propaganda" for taking part in a campaign of solidarity in support of the Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.

After being questioned by a prosecutor on June 20, Önderoğlu and his two colleagues were immediately referred to an Istanbul judge, who ordered they be placed in pre-trial detention.

Erol Önderoğlu is being prosecuted on the basis of three articles published by Özgür Gündem on May 18, 2016, about power struggles within the various Turkish security forces and the ongoing operations against Kurdish rebels in south-eastern Anatolia.

Önderoğlu has been RSF’s representative in Turkey since 1996, and compiles quarterly/triennial reports on the state of freedom of expression in Turkey for the Bianet news website. He is a member of the board of IFEX (the International Freedom of Expression Exchange) and often works with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and several other international organizations.

Nesin, Önderoğlu, and Fincancı are among some 44 individuals who have joined the solidarity campaign by acting as a Co-Editor in Chief for a day since World Press Freedom Day on May 3, 2016. At least 37 of these are reported to have been placed under investigation as a result of their participation.

Özgür Gündem has frequently been under pressure from the Turkish authorities. Its publication was banned between 1994 and 2011, and many of its reporters have been arrested over the years on charges of support for the PKK. Others were held for years as part of an investigation into the Koma Civakên Kurdistan (Group of Communities in Kurdistan) (KCK), an alleged umbrella organization for groups with links to the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). According to Bianet, some 80 cases are currently pending against Özgür Gündem.

PEN Center USA joins PEN International in calling on Turkey to drop all charges against Ahmet Nesin, Erol Önderoğlu and Şebnem Korur Fincancı and all others held or facing trial solely for their peaceful exercise to their right to freedom of expression.

See PEN International and Reporters Without Borders' joint statement on this issue here.

Please SHARE this story on social media using the hashtag #ÖzgürGündem, in an effort to increase public awareness:


Please SIGN the petition at the bottom of this page to join PEN Center USA's appeal to the Turkish authorities:

  • Urging the Turkish authorities to drop all changes against Ahmet Nesin, Erol Önderoğlu, and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, and and other participants of this solidarity campaign, whom PEN International believes are being prosecuted for exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling on them to cease prosecution and persecution of the publication Özgür Gündem;
  • Calling on them not to criminalize social protest or use the justice system to generate fear, censorship and silence among journalists, writers and others in Turkey.

Background via PEN International

Solidarity actions of this nature have a long history in Turkey stemming back to 1995 when prominent writer Yasar Kemal was called to the State Security Court (DGM) to make a statement about an article published in the German weekly Der Spiegel. Protests against his prosecution culminated in 1080 academics who published a book entitled Freedom of Thought which resulted in their own prosecution. PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee collected signatures of support to these persecuted academics and after the prosecutor refused to open a similar case against the PEN signatories, the Committee organized a visit of 19 writers from 12 countries to Istanbul.

The period for signing this petition is now over.