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Middle East

Reporters Without Borders representative arrested in Turkey

Three people who served as duty editors on the pro-Kurdish Free Agenda daily have been arrested on charges of "terror propaganda." Critics say it's the latest attempt by the government to intimidate journalists.

The arrests were ordered on Monday for three people who participated in the “on-duty editor-in-chief” campaign in solidarity with the pro-Kurdish daily newspaper Free Agenda (Özgür Gündem). Charged with “terror propaganda,” Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoglu and writer Ahmet Nesin were sent to İstanbul's Metris Prison, while Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT) President Sebnem Korur Fincanci was sent to the city's Bakırköy Prison.

51 people have participated in the “on-duty editor-in-chief” campaign with the newspaper, which kicked off on May 3 this year to draw attention to extensive investigations launched against the daily. Free Agenda had been targeted by almost a hundred investigations in ten months ahead of this campaign.

Apart from Fincanci, Önderoglu and Nesin, investigations have been launched against 37 of the participants. Five of those editors went to give statements on Monday and were subsequently released.

Screenshot medyatava.com Erol Onderoglu Ahmet Nesin Sebnem Korur Fincanci

Erol Onderoglu (r.), journalist Ahmet Nesin (l.) and rights activist Sebnem Korur Fincanci (m.) were charged with 'terror propaganda'

'This is not a coincidence'

According to lawyer Veysel Ok, legal representative of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) the situation amounts to a major contradiction. "The arrest of these three people is not a coincidence," said Ok, refering to the fact that the five participants who were released were being investigated by a different prosecutor than those who were formally arrested.

"I think Erol Önderoglu was arrested because he is the representative of Reporters Without Borders, while Sebnem Korur Fincanci has worked on issues of human rights for years. I think Ahmet Nesin [son of deceased iconic writer Aziz Nesin] was arrested for symbolic reasons," Ok said, adding that the purpose behind the arrests is to put an end to the solidarity shown for Free Agenda.

According to Ok, the decision to arrest the three on criminal liability for the reports they published as editors-in-chief is a legal mistake, and that Fincanci, Önderoğlu and Nesin can appeal their arrests, but as Turkey's judicial holiday begins on July 20, they may remain behind bars until September.

Journalists Union of Turkey Chairman, Uğur Güc, drawing attention to the fact that Free Agenda has faced pressure for a long time, said that the 51 participants joined in solidarity and each served as editor-in-chief for a single day.

"But the government has no tolerance even for solidarity. They do not want there to be any solidarity with Kurdish journalists. This is why these three were arrested. It is absolutely a move intended to intimidate journalists," Güc said, adding that he believed the arrest of journalists and policy of intimidation will continue at an even faster pace.

"In order to stand up for the public's freedom to obtain information, for freedom of the press and the right of everyone to freely write and express their thoughts and ideas, friends from a wide variety of non-governmental organizations signed up for Free Agenda's editor-in-chief campaign. We're talking about an unbelievable level of support," said Dr. Beyza Üstün, who is among the five participants released after giving their statements in an Istanbul court on Monday.

A sign of rising pressure

Hasip Kaplan, lawyer and former deputy from the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) is also among those under investigation who were released after giving their statements Monday. According to Kaplan, there is a case being prepared against him but the trial date has not been set. "This shows that judicial pressure against the press is gradually increasing," Kaplan said.

Prominent journalist Celal Baslangıc is among the participants, and also has a case against him. “As of today, there have been investigations against 37 people; 6 have been dropped, while 6 cases have been opened, one of which is against me. Three people have been arrested," he said, adding that he will face a judge on October 4.

RSF Germany representative, Christian Mihr, criticized Turkey's anti-terror laws for being undemocratic, while Human Rights Watch Europe and Central Asia director Hugh Williams called for the immediate release of the three and an end to the investigations.

Also other Turkish journalists, including Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily volunteered to show solidarity with Free Agenda. Since the arrest of Önderoglu, Financi and Nesin, 108 journalists have declared that they are ready and willing to step-in as duty editors.

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