Aslı Erdoğan, a renowned novelist and columnist and a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of the shuttered pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily, was arrested in a police raid on her home in Istanbul as part of an investigation targeting the newspaper on 16 August 2016. Erdoğan was one of more than 20 people, including executives and other members of Özgür Gündem’s Editorial Advisory Board, who were taken into police custody.
Özgür Gündem itself was shut down with a court order earlier on the same day on the grounds of “terrorism propaganda” and acting as a “de facto news outlet of the PKK." Erdoğan was jailed pending trial on 19 August 2016 on charges of "terrorism propaganda," "membership in a terrorist organization" and "disrupting the unity of the state." Four articles by Erdoğan, tackling the situation in southeastern provinces that became a scene of military operations and curfews, were presented as grounds for the decision.
An indictment subsequently prepared by Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office charged Erdoğan and eight others, including three in pre-trial detention like Erdoğan, with "membership in an armed terrorist organization" (TCK 314/2), "disrupting the unity and integrity of the state" (TCK 302) and "terrorism propaganda" (TMK 7/2), seeking an aggravated life imprisonment sentence and an additional prison term of up to 17.5 years.
On 23 November 2016, Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court ruled to release Erdoğan and linguist Necmiye Alpay, another member of the Özgür Gündem Editorial Advisory Board, pending trial in connection with the charge of “disrupting the unity of the state” on the grounds of lack of sufficient evidence indicating that the said crime was committed. However, they remained in jail as the court ruled for the continuation of their pre-trial detention in connection with the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization.”
On 29 December 2016, Erdoğan, Alpay and Zana (Bilir) Kaya, the co-editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem, were released by the court.
On 22 June 2017, at the end of the fourth hearing of trial, the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court ruled to lift the travel ban on Erdoğan and Alpay.
At the hearing held on 10 April 2019, the court decided to hand over the case file to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion and set 3 July 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
The 15th hearing in the "Özgür Gündem Main Trial" trial took place on 13 January 2020. Prosecutor Hakan Gökalp Uçan presented his final opinion during the hearing, asking the court to convict Aslı Erdoğan and Zana Kaya of "terrorism propaganda" while seeking convictions for Eren Keskin, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı on the charge of "membership in a terrorist organization.”
Acquitted of two charges, one charge dropped
The 16th and final hearing of the trial took place on 14 February 2020 at the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul. Aslı Erdoğan, who lives abroad, did not attend the hearing. She was represented in court by her lawyer, Erdal Doğan, who read out Erdoğan's written statement: "My articles consisted of anti-violence political content. Five or six words plucked out of the text were used in order to accuse me. No matter who is being tried, extrajudicial punishment is a crime. I call on the court to protect universal conscience.”
After reading out Erdoğan’s statement, the lawyer addressed the court, saying: “The indictment was drafted after the expiry of the four-month statute of limitations for pressing charges [according to the Press Law] and this is a press trial. So the charges should be dropped on the grounds of judicial procedure." Saying that criticism is not propaganda, Doğan requested Erdoğan’s acquittal.
Issuing their judgment at the end of the hearing, the court acquitted Aslı Erdoğan of "disrupting the unity and integrity of the state" (TCK 302) and "membership in a terrorist organization" (TCK 314/2) and dropped the "terrorism propaganda" (TMK 7/2) charge against her, citing the expiry of the four-month statute of limitations for pressing charges as per Article 26/1 of Turkey’s Press Law.
Appellate court judgment
On 10 June 2021, the 27th Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reversed the trial court's decision to drop the "terrorism propaganda" charge against Erdoğan in the "Özgür Gündem main trial" on the grounds that "the statute of limitations prescribed in the Press Law should not apply in Erdoğan's case if the four articles for which Erdoğan stood trial were also published online." Ordering further investigation, the appellate court remanded the file to the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court.
The trial court set 16 December 2021 as the date for the first hearing of Erdoğan's retrial on "terrorism propaganda" charge.
The retrial of Aslı Erdoğan on the charge of "terrorism propaganda" got underway on 16 December 2021. Erdoğan, who lives abroad, did not attend the hearing. She was represented by her lawyer.
P24 was in the courthouse to monitor the hearing. Citing the Covid-19 pandemic, the court did not allow spectators in the courtroom.
Deciding to inquire about the URLs of Erdoğan's articles of the cyber crimes unit under the General Directorate of Security, the court postponed the trial until 10 February 2022.
Aslı Erdoğan's retrial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda” concluded on 10 February 2022. The Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court acquitted Erdoğan on the grounds that her articles that were also published in the now-defunct Özgür Gündem newspaper’s online edition could not be found.