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Turkey to keep novelist Erdogan detained pending trial

Chase Winter
November 23, 2016

Novelist Asli Erdogan and linguist Necmiye Albay have been in jail for nearly three months for alleged terror ties. Charges against them have drawn criticism from the EU and rights groups.

Pressebilder PEN International - Asli Erdogan
Image: PEN International

A Turkish court on Wednesday dropped one charge againstinternationally acclaimed novelist Asli Erdogan and linguist Necmiye Albay, but ruled to keep them under arrest for alleged terror ties to Kurdish militants, Turkish media reported.

Erdogan and Albay have been in an Istanbul prison for 95 and 85 days, respectively, on alleged terror charges for making propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) under Turkey's draconian anti-terror laws.

Turkish media first reported the pair would be released pending trial, but later said the court ruled to keep them in custody on charges of being "a member of a terrorist organiztion." However, another charge of "disrupting the unity of the state and nation" was dropped.

The charges stem from their role on the publishing advisory board the pro-Kurdish "Ozgur Gundem" newspaper, which authorities later raided and shut down for alleged ties to the PKK.  Erdogan, who has no relation to Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was also a columnist for the paper.

Dozens of other activists and journalists joined "Ozgur Gundem" as guest editors in an act of solidarity with the newspaper as it faced government harassment and pressure. Several of them, including the representative of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in Turkey, Erol Onderoglu, rights campaigner Sebnem Korur Fincanci and journalist Ahmet Nesin face similar charges for making "terrorist propaganda."

Ozcan Kilic, the lawyer for Erdogan and Albay, said the first hearing would be on December 29. The court ruled to keep "Ozgur Gundem" editors in Inan Kizilkaya and Zana Kaya under detention, he added.

Trials such as these can typically be a long and drawn-out process.

Erdogan's case has drawn international criticism from rights groups and the European Union at a time of mounting concern about President 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.

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.