By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – An Istanbul court on Wednesday acquitted the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) as well as two other campaigners for press freedom on trial for terrorism charges, their lawyers said.
RSF representative Erol Onderoglu, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey president Sebnem Korur Fincanci and author Ahmet Nesin were jailed briefly in 2016 but later released as their trial continued.
The defendants were accused of carrying out terrorist propaganda and incitement to crime after guest-editing Ozgur Gundem, a newspaper on Kurdish issues, and campaigning against efforts to censor it.
Lawyer Meric Eyuboglu said the verdict was bittersweet because others who also guest-edited the newspaper had received jail sentences. “We were thinking that they would receive a sentence because of the verdicts in other similar cases and the political juncture we are going through,” she said.
“We had a surprise today and they were acquitted,” added the lawyer, who represented Fincanci.
Eyuboglu said Onderoglu also faces a separate legal case for supporting academics put on trial for signing a letter calling for an end to the conflict between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).
Paris-based RSF welcomed the verdict but called for charges in the separate case against Onderoglu to be dropped.
“We are deeply relieved by @ErolOnderoglu’s and his colleague’s acquittal. BUT 3 years of absurd proceedings was already a form of unjust punishment,” it said on Twitter.
Ozgur Gundem was closed down under a crackdown during a state of emergency after an abortive coup attempt in July 2016 on grounds it made propaganda for the PKK and acted as its de facto news outlet.
The newspaper focused on the conflict with the PKK in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and has faced dozens of investigations, fines and arrests of correspondents since 2014.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ordered Turkey in March to compensate the owner of Ozgur Gundem, after finding that criminal proceedings had been “systematically opened” against it.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying President Tayyip Erdogan has used the coup as a pretext to quash dissent. Turkey says the measures were necessary given the security risks it faced.
The PKK, deemed a terrorist organisation by Turkey, the United States and European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency seeking autonomy for some 15 million Kurds in Turkey. More than 40,000 people have died in the violence.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Cawthorne)