Writer-journalist Nadire Mater plays a prominent part in freedom of opinion and speech in Turkey. Mater serves as the Chair of the Board of the Interpress Service (IPS) Communication Foundation, which supports rights-based journalism practices. She is also the project advisor of the Independent Communication Network (BIA) and continues to work for the online media platform bianet.org.
Mater is among 38 people who have stood trial for supporting the Editors-in-Chief on Watch Campaign for the now shut down newspaper Özgür Gündem Daily. She was sentenced to a deferred prison sentence and a fine.
Mater took part in the campaign to show solidarity to Özgür Gündem and to fight for freedom of opinion and expression. She supported this campaign because Özgür Gündem had been subject to several investigations, lawsuits, and censorships until it was shut down by an executive decree in October 2016.
She was accused of “publishing and disseminating publications of a terrorist organization” and “propagandizing for a terrorist organization.” The accusations refer to the news and articles that were published by Özgür Gündem on 3 June 2016—when she served as the Guest Editor-in-Chief on Watch for one day. The first hearing of the case was held at a court on 7 November 2016. In the next hearing on 14 February 2017, the prosecutor sought a prison sentence for Mater up to 10.5 years. At the last hearing on 7 March 2017, she was sentenced to 15 months in prison on “propaganda” charges. The sentence was deferred. She was sentenced to pay a fine of 6,000 TL, which is an equivalent of spending 10 months in prison for “publishing and spreading statements of terrorist organizations.”
Mater’s award-winning book Mehmedin Kitabı: Soldiers Who Have Fought in the Southeast Speak Out was published in 1999 and translated into five languages. It has become one of the symbols of freedom of opinion and expression. When it was published, Mater was indicted and the book was banned upon the request of the General Staff of the Turkish Republic. She was acquitted in 2001. Yet today, Mater has been sentenced to prison for defending press freedom and freedom of expression.
SOLIDARITY WITH ÖZGÜR GÜNDEM CASE
Following the ending of a ceasefire between the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Turkish state, the armed conflict between the parties resumed on 24 July 2015. Within this context, Özgür Gündem, one of the most important publications of the Kurdish press, faced countless investigations, court cases and censorship.
100 people, including journalists, artists, writers, academicians, civil society representatives and politicians, participated in the Editor-in-Chief on Watch Campaign. Campaign participants were named the symbolic Editor-in-Chief of the paper for one day to show solidarity for Özgür Gündem. The goal of the campaign was to counter these legal pressures. In response to the campaign, lawsuits were filed against the participants for engaging in “terrorist propaganda.” Amongst those charged, three campaign participants, Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı, were arrested on 20 June 2016. They remained in arrest for ten days. On 17 July 2019, they were based on the judge’s ruling that the solidarity action did not constitute a crime.
Investigations were launched against 50 of the 100 people who took part in this campaign, which ended on 7 August 2016. Eleven* of these investigations did not lead to prosecution, meaning charges were dropped. In 38 cases**, the indictment was accepted, resulting in lawsuits. The 38 lawsuits were based on violations of Article 7/2 (making propaganda of a terrorist organization) and Article 6 (printing or broadcasting announcements or statements of terrorist organizations) of the Anti-Terror Legislation No.3713. Thus far only one case, namely Deniz Türkali’s case, has been dropped due to statute of limitation.
Of these 38 people, 27 were sentenced to a total 293 months and 15 days in prison. The prison sentences of Murat Çelikkan, Ayşe Düzkan, Ragıp Duran and Celalettin Can were not deferred. Murat Çelikkan stayed in prison for 3 months and has since been released on probation. Ayşe Düzkan was arrested on 29 January 2019, imprisoned for 4.5 months, and was finally released on 12 June 2019.
Thus far, the following seven people have been acquitted: Erol Önderoğlu, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Ahmet Nesin, Hasan Hayri Şanlı, Nevin Erdemir, Hüseyin Tahmaz, and Hakkı Boltan.
The case of three Editors-in-Chief on Watch is still ongoing. Can Dündar, Said Sefa and Veysi Altay will have their next hearing on 29 November 2019.
* Cases in which court ruled no prosecution: İhsan Eliaçık, Melda Onur, Sebahat Tuncel, Ahmet Abakay, Eşber Yağmurdereli, Hasip Kaplan, Işın Eliçin, Kemal Can, Mustafa Sönmez, Uğur Karadaş, Nurcan Baysal
** Participants who were prosecuted : A. Kumru Başer, Ahmet Nesin, Ayşe Batumlu, Ayşe Düzkan, Beyza Üstün, Can Dündar, Celal Başlangıç, Celalettin Can, Cengiz Baysoy, Çilem Küçükkeleş, Derya Okatan, Dicle Anter, Erol Önderoğlu, Ertuğrul Mavioğlu, Faruk Balıkçı, Faruk Eren, Fehim Işık, Hüseyin Tahmaz, Hakkı Boltan, Hasan Cemal, Hasan Hayri Şanlı, İ. Aydın, İbrahim Bodur, İhsan Çaralan, Jülide Kural, Murat Çelikkan, Murat Uyurkulak, Nadire Mater, Necmiye Alpay, Nevin Erdemir, Öncü Akgül, Ragıp Duran, Said Sefa, Şanar Yurdatapan, Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Tuğrul Eryılmaz, Veysi Altay and Yıldırım Türker.