Top press rights defender in Turkey court for 'terror propaganda'

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(Petros Giannakouris, AP)
(Petros Giannakouris, AP)

Istanbul - The Turkey representative for Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and two other campaigners appeared in court on Wednesday, risking years in jail in a high-profile trial, charged with aiding Kurdish militants.

The trial has sparked international howls of protest from press rights' defenders who claim the climate for media freedom in Turkey has deteriorated sharply under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

RSF representative Erol Onderoglu, rights activist Sebnem Korur Fincanci and journalist Ahmet Nesin have been charged with making "terror propaganda" on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after guest-editing pro-Kurdish Turkish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.

Onderoglu told reporters outside the court they risked 14 years and six months in jail if convicted. The trial was adjourned until March 21.

Turkey ranked 151st of 180 countries in a 2016 World Press Freedom index published by RSF.

"Since then, the situation has been getting worse every day," Christophe Deloire, RSF secretary general, told reporters outside the court.

'Matter of honour' 

"Pluralism is almost totally dead in this country, there is no independent TV, there are only two or three newspapers that try to resist as they can," he said.

Ozgur Gundem had invited guest editors to take control of the paper in a campaign of solidarity as it faced pressure from authorities.

Onderoglu and the others were initially arrested in June but then freed pending trial.

The daily was then raided and permanently shut down in August on charges of links with the PKK, which has waged an insurgency against Ankara for more than three decades.

"This trial is a matter of honour for me and my friends, because we stood up and we fought for a noble cause," Fincanci said.

Onderoglu's detention on June 20 triggered international alarm over press freedom in Turkey but concerns have grown further as the authorities imposed a state of emergency in the wake of the July 15 failed coup.

Critics say that the state of emergency is being used against any opponent of Erdogan and not just the suspected coup plotters.

The Istanbul court was also the scene Wednesday of a fresh hearing in the separate trial against the exiled former editor-in-chief of Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar, and his Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul.

Dundar and Gul, who are fighting previous convictions for revealing state secrets, are accused of ties to the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former Erdogan ally turned foe.

Prosecutors called for them to serve 10 years on top of their existing sentences, bringing them to over 15 years.

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