Turkey journalists and activist acquitted of terrorism charges

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A Turkish court has acquitted two journalists and a human rights activist of terrorism charges.

The three defendants had been accused of spreading terrorist propaganda for their work with a Kurdish newspaper, which has since been closed down.

But the three maintained they were defending free speech amid a clampdown by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Applause erupted in the courtroom as the verdict was read out, the BBC’s Mark Lowen reported from Istanbul.

Erol Onderoglu, the Turkey representative for press freedom watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF), journalist Ahmet Nesin, and Sebnem Korur Fincanci, chairwoman of Turkey’s Human Rights Foundation, were arrested in June 2016.

RSF’s annual press freedom index ranks Turkey 157th out of 180 countries, in part because Turkey is the world’s largest jailer of journalists.

Last year, Turkey imprisoned 68 journalists in total – the highest of any country in the world. Most of the imprisoned or accused are of Kurdish origin.

Why were they arrested?

Mr Onderoglu, Mr Nesin and Ms Fincanci guest-edited the Kurdish paper Ozgur Gundem in 2016, which saw them accused by the authorities of making propaganda on behalf of the banned Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). They each faced 14 years in prison.

Two months after their arrest, in August that year, the Ozgur Gundem offices were raided and then permanently shut down.

In a statement released in April, Mr Onderoglu said: “I regard this trial as a part of an effort to intimidate journalists and rights defenders in Turkey. It is a heavy burden for anyone who yearns for democracy to be tried based on their professional activities or solidarity.

“We are not concerned with being pushed around or harassed by the threats of persecution like the Sword of Damocles. Our concern is for the entire society; it is our concern for the erosion of a sense of justice which holds us all together.”

Erol Onderoglu
Image captionErol Onderoglu is the Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders

Ms Fincanci was the only defendant in court on Wednesday.

In her closing remarks, before the verdict was read out, Ms Fincanci told the court: “The only crime here was a crime against freedom of speech.”

What has the response been?

As Ms Fincanci left the courtroom, she displayed the victory sign at reporters waiting outside.

She told AFP that she was “very surprised” by the verdict, adding: “I don’t know how to react! Unfortunately we spent an unnecessary amount of time in jail, it’s a shame.”

RSF responded to the acquittal on Twitter, saying it was “deeply relieved”.

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