“The Editors-in-Chief on Watch” solidarity campaign for Özgür Gündem Daily newspaper – shut down by a statutory decree – was launched on May 3, 2016 and ended on August 7, 2016. Investigations were launched against 49 out of the 56 Editors-in-Chief on Watch, 11 of which resulted in non-persecution. 38 files turned into lawsuits. Seven editors-in-chief on watch were acquitted whereas 27 were sentenced. The acquittal decision for Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Ahmet Nesin and Erol Önderoğlu was overturned by the Court of Appeal.
Starting from July 24, 2015, during the period of conflict that followed the stalled peace process, Özgür Gündem – one of the most prominent Kurdish media outlets – faced censorship and numerous investigations, legal actions launched against them.
“The Editors-in-Chief on Watch” solidarity campaign against these oppressive measures was launched on May 3, 2016, on the day of Freedom of Press. During the launch, Ahmet Birsin, the editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem, announced that there were 80 legal actions taken against the newspaper since July 2015. According to the data shared by Birsin, until that date, 51 out of 99 investigations were launched under the Anti-terrorism law (TMK) and 29 out of the 47 investigations launched by the prosecutor overseeing press under Article 301 of Penal Code of Turkey (TCK) turned into lawsuits.
100 journalists, artists, authors, academics, and representatives of civil society and politicians partook in the solidarity campaign to act as the “Editor-in-chief for a day” to stand against these legal oppressions. Charges were brought against those wo partook in the campaign on the grounds that they were making “propaganda in favor of terrorist organizations”. On June 20, 2016 three editors-in-chief on watch, Erol Önderoğlu, Ahmet Nesin and Şebnem Korur Fincancı were arrested for 10 days. They were acquitted on July 17, 2019 during the final hearing at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on the grounds that “their actions did not constitute a crime”.
The acquittal decision was overturned by the 3rd Criminal Department of Istanbul Regional Court of Justice on November 3, 2020. The Court of Appeal rejected the acquittal decision of 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on the grounds that they did not follow due process of law. Retrials of Önderoğlu, Nesin and Fincancı started on February 3, 2021. 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.
Investigations were launched against 50 out of the 100 people who joined to the campaign in solidarity. 11 of these resulted in non-persecution, and 38 files turned into lawsuits.
They were taken to court for violating Anti-Terrorism Law (TMK) No. 3713 Articles 7/2 (propaganda in favor of terrorist organizations) and 6/2 (publishing and spreading statements of terrorist organizations.). Deniz Türkali’s case was dismissed due to expiration of the Statute of Limitation during the investigation.
Until this date, cases brought against the editors in chief on watch sentenced 27 people to a total of 293 months and 15 days in prison. The deferment of the announcement of the verdict was not applied to the cases of Murat Çelikkan, Ayşe Düzkan, Ragıp Duran and Celalettin Can.
Prison sentence of Murat Çelikkan was not deferred, so he entered Kırklareli Prison on August 14, 2017 and was transferred to open prison on October 14, 2017. He was released on October 21, 2017. The Court of Appeal upheld the 1 year 6 months prison sentence for Ayşe Düzkan. She was arrested and sent to Bakırköy Women’s Closed Prison on January 29, 2019. After four and half months of imprisonment, she was released on June 12, 2019.
The lawsuits of “the Editors-in-Chief on Watch” Can Dündar, Said Sefa and Veysi Altay are ongoing at the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
Özgür Gündem’s Managing Editor İnan Kızılkaya is defendant in all 38 cases. His case was separated from the trials of other Editors-in-Chief on Watch. Istanbul 23rd Heavy Criminal Court is combining Kızılkaya’s case with the main trial.
Cases in which court ruled no prosecution: İhsan Eliaçık, Melda Onur, Sabahat Tuncel, Ahmet Abakay, Eşber Yağmurdereli, Hasip Kaplan, Işın Eliçin, Kemal Can, Mustafa Sönmez, Uğur Karadaş, Nurcan Baysal.
Acquittals: Erol Önderoğlu (rejected at the Court of Appeal), Şebnem Korur Fincancı (rejected at the Court of Appeal), Ahmet Nesin (istinafta bozuldu), Hasan Hayri Şanlı, Nevin Erdemir, Hüseyin Tahmaz and Hakkı Boltan.
Editors-in-Chief on Watch, against whom lawsuits were brought: 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.