Human rights and media activist released in Turkey

AP News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2016 12:49 PM

ISTANBUL (AP) — A Turkish court on Thursday released a prominent press freedom advocate and leading human rights defender, two of three activists put under pre-trial arrest on June 20 for participating in a solidarity campaign with a pro-Kurdish daily newspaper.

Sebnem Korur Fincanci, president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey, and Erol Onderoglu, Turkey's representative to Reporters Without Borders, are to remain free pending trial on charges of "propaganda for terror organization PKK," or the Kurdistan Workers' Party, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency. The first hearing is scheduled for November 8.

A different court is handling the case against writer and journalist Ahmet Nesin and there has been no decision yet on the possibility of his release pending trial, according to Anadolu.

The three had participated in a solidarity campaign taking turns as co-editors in support of Ozgur Gundem, a pro-Kurdish publication subject to multiple investigations and lawsuits.

Press freedom advocates see the arrests as part of Turkey's clamp down on free speech. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which monitors press freedom globally, says at least 55 people are being investigated for participating in the solidarity campaign, with trials against at least 16 of them.

Turkey rejected the allegations of a crackdown on press freedom. Speaking at the European Union headquarters in Brussels on Thursday, Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said, "We fully believe in and support freedom of expression."

The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey issued a statement thanking the solidarity of human rights defenders in Turkey and abroad, saying, "This decision of release has partially compensated the pressure and illegality journalists and human rights defenders face."

Secretary General of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, hailed the decision to release his colleague, as "very, very good news."

Deloire noted the decision coincided with the start of talks over Turkey's European Union membership bid. "Is it a coincidence? I don' know. But I do know there was a huge amount of pressure. I hope the Turkish authorities discovered that they went too far," he told the AP.