TUR 004 / 0616 / OBS 049.5
Judicial harassment

June 20, 2017

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Turkey.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing judicial harassment of Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, President of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), Mr. Erol Önderoğlu, Turkey Representative of Reporters Without Borders (RWB), Mr. Ahmet Nesin, journalist, as well as of Mr. Murat Çelikkan, journalist and co-director of Hafıza Merkezi[1] (Truth Justice Memory Center).

According to the information received, on June 8, 2017, the Istanbul Çağlayan 13th Heavy Penal Court postponed the hearing in the trial of Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Mr. Erol Önderoğlu and Mr. Ahmet Nesin, on charges of “provoking the commission of an offence”[2], “praising the offence and the offenders”[3] and “making propaganda for a terrorist organisation through means of press”[4]. The next hearing has been scheduled for December 26, 2017. The postponement was justified on the necessity to carry out correspondence with Mr. Ahmet Nesin, who is currently outside Turkey and is being tried in absentia

The Observatory recalls that the three face possible custodial sentences for taking part in a solidarity campaign in support of the right to freedom of the press, and more particularly for acting as symbolic co-editors of the daily Kurdish newspaper Özgür Gündem[5].

Besides, on June 6, 2017, Mr. Murat Çelikkan’s lawyer filed a plea before the Court of Appeal of Turkey against his sentencing to 18 months of prison by the 13th Heavy Penal Court on May 16, 2017, on charges of “propaganda for a terrorist organisation” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, for acting as a symbolic co-editor of the Özgür Gündem daily. On May 18, 2017, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights expressed his concerns about sentencing of Mr. Murat Çelikkan, and called on the Turkish authorities “to urgently ensure that judicial practice concerning freedom of expression in Turkey is fully aligned with the case law of the European Court of Human Rights[6]”.

The Observatory highlights that in the context of this solidarity campaign with Özgür Gündem, a total of 50 campaigners are being investigated and 38 prosecuted.

The Observatory strongly condemns the sentencing of Mr. Murat Çelikkan and the continuing judicial harassment against Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Mr. Erol Önderoğlu and Mr. Ahmet Nesin, which seems to merely aim at sanctioning their legitimate human rights activities.

Accordingly, the Observatory calls upon the Turkish judicial authorities to end all forms of harassment against them and, in the meantime, to ensure that all judicial proceedings against them are carried out in full compliance with their right to a fair trial, as protected under international law.

Background information:

On June 20, 2016, the 1st High Court of Peace in Istanbul ordered the detention of Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Mr. Ahmet Nesin and Mr. Erol Önderoğlu, pending an investigation into their alleged involvement in the propaganda of terrorism. The human rights defenders presented themselves after they had received arrest warrants, and were referred to the First High Court of Peace after testifying before the Prosecutor on Terror and Organised Crime at the Istanbul Court House in Çağlayan earlier that day, under accusations of “provoking commission of offence”,“praising the offence and the offenders” and “making terror propaganda”.

Ms. Şebnem Korur Fincancı, Mr. Ahmet Nesin, Mr. Erol Önderoğlu and Mr. Murat Çelikkan were questioned in relation to their participation in the “Editor-in-chief on Duty” campaign launched in early May 2016 in solidarity with the Özgür Gündem newspaper and to defend press freedom in Turkey[7].

Ms. Fincancı was detained at Bakırköy Women Closed Prison, while Mr. Önderoğlu and Mr. Nesin were held in Metris Prison in Istanbul.

On June 30, 2016, the Istanbul Caglayan 13th Heavy Penal Court ordered the provisional release of Ms. Fincancı and Mr. Önderoğlu.

On July 1, 2016, the 14th Heavy Penal Court ordered the provisional release of Mr. Ahmet Nesin.

On November 8, 2016, the Istanbul Caglayan 13th Heavy Penal Court decided to pursue the charges against Ms. Fincancı, Mr. Önderoğlu and Mr. Nesin and decided to postpone the hearing to January 11, 2017.

Since January 2017, the trial against Ms. Fincancı, Mr. Önderoğlu and Mr. Nesin was postponed several times. The next hearing is scheduled to happen on December 26, 2017.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities in Turkey, urging them to:

  1. Drop all the charges against Ms. Fincancı, Mr. Önderoğlu, Mr. Nesin and Mr. Çelikkanand, in the meantime, ensure that any judicial proceedings against them is carried out in full compliance with the defendants’ right to a fair trial, as protected under international law;
  2. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in Turkey, including Ms. Fincancı, Mr. Önderoğlu, Mr. Nesin and Mr. Çelikkan;
  3. Put an end to all forms of harassment, including at judicial level, against Ms. Fincancı, Mr. Önderoğlu, Mr. Nesin and Mr. Çelikkan, as well as all human rights defenders in Turkey; 
  4. Put an end to the ongoing crackdown on civil society under the pretext of countering terrorism and recognise the legitimate role of human rights defenders, in line with Turkey’s international obligations;
  5. Comply with all the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular its Articles 1, 12.1 and 12.2;
  6. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Turkey.


Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Turkey in your respective country.


Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply. 

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

[1] Hafıza Merkezi is an organisation that strives to bring to light impunity, past violations of human rights – especially cases of harassment against Kurds and Armenians – and support victims in obtaining justice.

[2] Article 214 of the Turkish Penal Code states that (1) Any person who openly provokes commission of an offense is punished with imprisonment from six months to five year. (2) Any person who arms a group against another group, or provokes to kill a person is punished with imprisonment from fifteen years to twenty-four years. (3) In case of commission of offenses which involves provocation, the offender is punished from solicitation.

[3] Article 215 of the Turkish Penal Code states that “Any person who openly praises an offense or the person committing the offenses is punished with imprisonment up to two years”.

[4] Article 7/2 of the Anti Terror Law states that “(2) Those who assist members of organizations constituted in the manner described above or make propaganda in connection with such organizations shall be punished with imprisonment of between 1 and 5 years and with a fine of between 50 million and 100 million Turkish liras, even if their offence constitutes a separate crime”.

[5] Özgür Gündem (Turkish for “Free Agenda”) was an Istanbul-based daily newspaper in Turkish language. Launched in May 1992, the newspaper was known for its extensive reporting on the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, and was therefore regularly accused of making propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Its editors and staff have frequently been arrested and tried and multiple publication bans were issued within Turkey. On August 16, 2016, the newspaper was “temporarily” shut down following a court order, and some twenty journalists and editors were taken into custody. While others were released, novelist and Özgür Gündem columnist Ms. Aslı Erdoğan, editor in-chief Mr. Zana Kaya and managing editor Mr. İnan Kızılkaya remained imprisoned, facing charges of “membership of a terrorist organisation” and “undermining national unity”. Ms. Asli Erdogan and Zana Kaya were released pending trial on December 29, 2016.

[6] See Press Release of the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, published on May 18, 2017, available at: https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/commissioner-concerned-about-sentencing-of-human-rights-defender-murat-celikkan-in-turkey

[7] Özgür Gündem started the “Editor-in-chief on Duty” campaign on May 3, 2016 to express solidarity and defend press freedom in the face of a number of investigations faced by the newspaper. A total of 49 prominent journalists have served as one-day editors-in-chief since the beginning of the campaign. Some 37 of them have been investigated up to now. Yet, Ms. Fincancı, Mr. Önderoğlu and Mr. Nesin were the first persons to be arrested and detained in relation to the campaign.