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Hope for Dutch reporter in Turkish 'terrorist' trial

A prosecutor has asked for dismissal of charges against a Dutch reporter. The trial marks Turkey's first prosecution of a foreign journalist under anti-terror laws in decades. Jacob Resneck reports from Diyarbakir.

The three-page indictment delivered February accuses freelance journalist Frederike Geerdink of praising the banned groups including the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) on social media and in a Turkish-language column carried by a critical news website.

Under Turkey's anti-terror legislation she faces up to five years in prison.

Geerdink, a Dutch national, has been reporting in Turkey since 2006 and moved to the predominately Kurdish city of Diyarbakir in 2012, where she reports almost exclusively on Turkey's Kurdish minority.

Reading a statement in Turkish to the court, she denied that she ever incited or condoned violence or advocated for any groups.

Professional standards

"I am a professional, independent journalist paid only by the independent media I work for," Geerdink said.

The prosecution assigned to the case told the panel of judges that the evidence in the indictment - seized during a January raid of her house in which she was briefly detained - fell short of the standard to convict and implied that he accepted Geerdink's argument.

The judges briefly cleared the court before ruling to postpone the trial until Monday, April 13, when their senior colleagues would be available to consider the merits of the case.

Geerdink reported on her own case from the dock.

Her lawyer told DW that Wednesday's U-turn by the prosecution is a hopeful sign that the government has lost interest in the case.

"We don't expect something contrary to the opinion of the prosecutor but you still we will have to wait till Monday," defense attorney Ramazan Demir said outside the courtroom. "There's no doubt that these pictures, her columns and all the materials in the case file has been done in the scope of journalism."

Geerdink told DW that she's feeling hopeful but

doesn't appreciate being stuck in limbo.

"It's a little bit strange that even the prosecutor asks for an acquittal," she told reporters. "Now even the judge isn't authorized to acquit me so we have to wait till Monday. I'm happy of course but it's not official yet."

Turkish routine

The trial has attracted international attention since it's the first case since the mid-1990s when a foreign journalist has been indicted for the content of their reporting. Turkey's routinely detains domestic journalists but has not prosecuted a foreign national since 1995, researchers say.

Observers from European and international rights organizations attending the trial said they are concerned that Turkey is sliding back toward authoritarianism.

"These proceedings shouldn't have taken place in the first place," Johann Bihr, Reporters Without Borders' regional head, told DW. "There's a clear will to intimidate Frederike and foreign journalists at large in this region."

The core of the government's argument had been that Geerdink had praised armed groups by sharing photos of funerals of slain PKK militants on Facebook and Twitter.

She writes in Dutch, English and more recently Turkish for a website that's regularly critical of the government.

Social media crackdown

Turkish protester using mobile phone Photo: OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Social media activists have long been a thorn in the side for the Turkish government

Turkey has one of the highest rates of social media use in Europe and the popularity of social media has also made it a target with the government

passing strict controls on the Internet

and instituting

recent blanket bans

on the services that don't block what officials consider insulting or offensive content.

On a parallel track, Turkey's government is

negotiating with the PKK's jailed leader for a lasting solution

to Turkey's conflict with Kurdish militants seeking broad autonomy and linguistic and cultural rights for Turkey's estimated 20 million Kurds.

A brutal guerilla war has left more than 40,000 people dead since the PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984.

In recent years the Turkish government has relaxed restrictions on Kurdish identity and the Kurdish language is regularly used in public forums and on official sign posts in some parts of the country, unthinkable a decade ago.

But prosecutions against activists - and their advocates - continue.

Demir - Geerdink's lawyer - will stand trial this week for allegedly insulting public prosecutors after he criticized the indictments against his clients who stood accused of membership of a banned Kurdish cultural association in 2013.

"Tomorrow is my hearing," Demir said Wednesday. "I'm on trial because of my submissions, my expressions as a lawyer. Actually, in a way we are in the same position as Frederike. She is being put on trial because of her profession as a journalist and I am being put on trial because of my profession as a lawyer because of my words in court."

If convicted the 31-year-old defense attorney faces up to three years in prison.

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