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Media watchdog representative in Turkey on trial

Chase Winter
November 8, 2016

The Turkey representative of a media rights watchdog and two others have gone on trial for "terror propaganda." The European Union and media rights groups have urged Turkey to drop the charges.

Türkei | Erol Önderoglu von Reporter ohne Grenzen spricht mit der Presse
Image: Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic

The representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Turkey alongside two other people went on trial Tuesday on charges of making terrorist propaganda for Kurdish militants, as media organizations and the European Union urged for all charges to be dropped.

RSF representative Erol Onderoglu, rights campaigner Sebnem Korur Fincanci and journalist Ahmet Nesin went on trial at an Istanbul courthouse for making "terrorist propaganda" for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has waged a three decade long armed struggle for greater Kurdish rights.

The three were arrested in June and released pending trial for guest editing the pro-Kurdish and leftist newspaper "Ozgur Gundem," which was later raided by police and closed down for alleged ties with the PKK.

Dozens of other activists and journalists had joined "Ozgur Gundem" as guest editors in an act of solidarity with the newspaper as it faced government harassment and pressure. Reporting on the Kurdish conflict has long faced restrictions in Turkey.

Several other journalists face similar "terror propaganda" charges under Turkey draconian anti-terror laws.

Among those also arrested was internationally recognized author Asli Erdogan, a columnist for the paper and member of its publishing advisory board. She has been in prison for more than 80 days.

The trial comes as there is mounting concern about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's growing crackdown on the media and opposition over the past several years. The crackdown has only intensified following the July 15 failed coup and sweeping state of emergency powers granted to the government in its aftermath.

"Journalists here face a growing legal pressure, more and more arbitrary, because we are in a state of emergency," Onderoglu told reporters outside the court in Istanbul, warning that civil society in the country was facing "extinction."

"The European ideal is fading away in Turkey," he added.

The European Union and media rights groups have urged Turkey to drop the charges.

Over the weekend, nine executives and journalists from the top opposition daily "Cumhuriyet"were sent to jail pending trail on terror related charges. The paper's former editor-in-chief Can Dundar, who now lives outside the country, faces charges for publishing stories about Turkish arms shipments to Syrian rebels.

On Tuesday, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo recognized his struggle for freedom of expression by granting him honorary citizenship of the French capital, which Dundar said he accepted "on behalf of all journalists who are in prison today."

Erdogan: the media crackdown taking Turkey a step closer to autocracy

Political opposition under attack

The crackdown on the media comes as Turkey arrested nearly a dozen parliamentarians from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) last week, including its co-chairs. Those arrests have sparked concern about further instability and that the country is sliding towards dictatorship.

In a further attack on the opposition, Erdogan's lawyer on Tuesday filed criminal complaints against all parliamentarians from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) for a meeting held the previous day in which they criticized the post-coup crackdown. "Cumhuriyet" has traditionally been close the CHP.

"Turkey is now going through a dark and authoritarian coup staged by the presidential palace," the CHP said on Monday. "The current political situation poses a serious threat against the freedom of our people and future of our country."

A prosecutor will now decide whether to investigate.

CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu showed solidarity with Erdogan following the coup attempt, but in the wake of the growing crackdown any semblance of cooperation has been shattered.

According to RSF, bans have been imposed on 150 media organizations and approximately the same number of journalists put in prison. Turkey ranks 151 of 180 countries in RSF's 2016 World Press Freedom index, just one notch ahead of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

cw/se (AFP, dpa, EFE)