Journalist Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkish Representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has been arrested and put on trial for participating in the solidarity campaign for the newspaper Özgür Gündem. He was eventually acquitted. Currently, this case is pending appeal. Önderoğlu also got acquitted from another case regarding his prosecution for participating in an action of solidarity with the petitioners of the “We will not be a Party to This Crime” (Bu Suça Ortak Olmayacağız) manifesto.
Erol Önderoğlu was born in 1969 in Erzincan. He has been an RSF reporter and representative for Turkey since 1996. His first example of investigative journalism was about Metin Göktepe, a former reporter for the newspaper Evrensel who was killed under detention. Önderoğlu assumed various roles at the news website bianet, a project of IPS Communication Foundation, such as the chief editor, editor for freedom of expression, and coordinator for Legal Support Desk. He continues to compile bianet’s Media Monitoring Database Reports.
In an effort to show solidarity with Özgür Gündem, Önderoğlu joined the campaign ‘chief editor on call’, which started on May 3 World Press Freedom Day. On June 20, 2016, a request for referral of judgment was put for Önderoğlu, along with Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin. They were later arrested facing charges of making propaganda for terrorist organizations.
Pointing out that he has been a journalist for 21 years, Önderoğlu asserted in his statement to the judge: “I have my name under more than ten thousand news pieces. This happens to be the first ever investigation against myself. I demand not to be arrested; for what we do is only looking out for press freedom and showing solidarity with our colleagues in the light of European Court of Human Rights, Turkish Constitutional Court and national legal precedents.”
Following the arrests of 3 journalists, over 100 journalists petitioned for the campaign. Özgür Gündem got closed down in August 2016.
Önderoğlu was released after spending 10 days in Istanbul’s Metris and Silivri prisons. The decision for Önderoğlu, Fincancı (chairperson for the Turkish Human Rights Association) and the author Nesin was given on July 17, 2019 at the 13th Assize Court of Istanbul, where they all got acquittal. Later, when the prosecutor appealed, the case got transferred to the Appeal Court. The verdict of acquittal was overturned by the appellate court on 3 November 2020. 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Courthouse stated that the acquittal verdict of Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı and Ahmet Nesin by the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court was against the procedure. The retrial of Önderoğlu, Nesin and Fincancı began again on February 3, 2021 at the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court. At the first hearing, the files were requested to be combined with the file numbered 2020/51 at the 23rd Heavy Penal Court. The next hearing will be held on May 6, 2021.
Önderoğlu was also among the group of journalists, authors and artists who went to the Istanbul Courthouse to denounce crime for themselves in an attempt to show solidarity with the 1128 academics that had published the manifesto “We will not be a Party to This Crime” on January 18, 2016. He stood trial for “making propaganda for an illegal organization” such as Academics for Peace (Barış için Akademisyenler) at the 25th Assize Court of Istanbul. Following the ruling from the Constitutional Court declaring “violation of rights” for the case files of the academics, Önderoğlu was acquitted on September 24, 2019.
For two years, he was a council member in IFEX, formerly International Freedom of Expression Exchange, representing bianet and IPS Communication Foundation. In 2014, Önderoğlu and Tuğrul Eryılmaz together received the Press Freedom Prize, awarded by Turkish Journalists’ Association, for their achievements in uncovering, reporting and publicizing violations of press freedom and freedom of expression in Turkey.
In addition to this prize, Önderoğlu has also been presented with the Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award in 2018 and SEEMO Award for Better Understanding in South East Europe in 2016.