TURKEY: Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin to be retried on terrorism charges
Paris-Geneva, February 1, 2021 – On February 3, 2021, Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court will hear the case of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin whose previous acquittal was overturned by the Istanbul Regional Court of Appeals on November 3, 2020. The Observatory (FIDH-OMCT), Front Line Defenders and the Human Rights Association (İnsan Hakları Derneği – İHD) express their utmost concern over this latest development and call on the Turkish authorities to put an end to the judicial harassment of the three human rights defenders.
Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, President of the Turkish Medical Association and Board Member of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, Mr. Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey Representative of Reporters Without Borders and Mr. Ahmet Nesin, a journalist, will be retried before Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court on February 3, 2021. They could face up to 14 and a half years in prison under the Terrorism Law no. 3713 and the Penal Code.
The three human rights defenders were acquitted on July 17, 2019 of charges of “provoking commission of offence”, “praising offence and offenders” and “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” by the İstanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court after a three-year long trial and several days of arbitrary detention (10 days for Ms. Fincancı and Mr. Önderoğlu and 12 days for Mr. Nesin). These charges stemmed from their participation in the “Editor-in-chief on Duty” campaign, launched in early May 2016 in solidarity with the Özgür Gündem newspaper (which was closed by the Statutory Decree no. 675 in October 2016) and to defend press freedom in Turkey.
Nevertheless, in a decision reached on October 20, 2020 and made public on November 3, 2020, the Istanbul Regional Court of Appeals overturned this acquittal, rejecting the reasoning of the Istanbul 13th Heavy Penal Court that the role of the three human rights defenders within the newspaper had been purely symbolic. The Court of Appeals also questioned the decision of the Penal Court to try the three human rights defenders separately from Inan Kizilkaya, editor in chief of Özgür Gündem.
The Observatory, Front Line Defenders and İHD firmly condemn the ruling of the Court of Appeals and subsequent retrial of Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities and the exercise of their right to the freedom of expression. The organisations denounce this new judicial development as yet another serious infringement of press freedom in the country and a further demonstration of the oppression of dissenting voices in the media. The recent developments, including the amendments to the Law on Associations adopted in December 2020 and overturning of acquittals of prominent civil society actors by higher courts, raise serious concerns of increased crackdown on civil society.
The Observatory, Front Line Defenders and İHD call on the Turkish authorities to immediately and unconditionally stop any harassment, including at the judicial level, against Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Erol Önderoğlu and Ahmet Nesin, and to guarantee press freedom in the country. They also urge the authorities to ensure that all human rights defenders in Turkey are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions including judicial harassment.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
Front Line Defenders is an international organisation based in Ireland that works exclusively for the protection of human rights defenders at risk. Front Line Defenders provides practical help through security grants, training and lobbying.
The Human Rights Association (İHD, İnsan Hakları Derneği) was founded on July 17, 1986, by 98 people, including lawyers, journalists, intellectuals, but mainly relatives of political prisoners. The sole objective of İHD is to carry out activities in defense of human rights and freedoms. Together with its headquarters and 31 branches and representations, İHD is Turkey’s biggest non-governmental human rights organisation and has been a member of FIDH since 1996.