Court panel writes in the judgment against Keskin, Kaya, Kızılkaya and Sancılı that the defendants “used human rights advocacy as a veil”
The 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul has issued its reasoned judgment in writing in the “Özgür Gündem main trial” against Eren Keskin, Zana (Bilir) Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı, which concluded last month after their files were separated from the main trial in 2020.
At the final hearing held on 15 February 2021, Özgür Gündem newspaper’s former Responsible Editor Kızılkaya, lawyer and human rights defender Keskin, who assumed the title of co-editor-in-chief in an act of solidarity with the newspaper, and publisher Sancılı were each sentenced to 6 years and 3 months in prison on the charge of “membership in a terrorist organization” while former Co-Editor-in-Chief Kaya was sentenced to 2 years and 1 month for “systematically disseminating terrorism propaganda by means of the press.”
The case was launched in 2016, shortly after the pro-Kurdish newspaper was closed down under a statutory decree. All four were charged with “Disrupting the integrity of the state and the unity of the nation” under Article 302 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK), “membership in a terrorist organization” under TCK Article 314/2, and “terrorism propaganda” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law.
The accusations stemmed from the newspaper’s editorial policy, which the trial court labeled in their judgment as “the official news outlet” of the PKK.
The Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court wrote in the reasoned judgment that news articles published in Özgür Gündem “targeted the Turkish Armed Forces’ fight against the PKK/PYD” and that these articles amounted to “libel by claiming that the Turkish military breached the law and intentionally harmed civilians in their operations.”
The judges wrote that it was “evident that the newspaper insulted security personnel killed during the fights; […] published all kinds of disinformation that could influence public opinion against Turkey; legitimized violent acts committed by the terrorist organization; […] published the instructions the organization sought to deliver to its supporters; [...] incited the public to hatred and rebellion. Therefore, the court has reached the conclusion that Özgür Gündem newspaper was not established with the aim of publishing [a newspaper] but [to serve] as a news bulletin for the PKK/YPG.”
“Defendants used human rights as a veil”
The judges wrote that the defendants’ statements and the editorial policy of the newspaper in general “ignored the violent acts committed by the terrorist organization” and used “human rights advocacy as a veil.”
“Certainly, human rights, democracy and rights and freedoms are indispensable, but using these concepts as a veil to disrupt the unity of the state is unacceptable. There needs to be a balance between rights and freedoms and public security. However, when considered together, the statements of the defendants and the editorial policy of the Özgür Gündem newspaper, [the court] has determined that there have been attempts at disrupting public security by means of human rights and advocacy for human rights; that [the defendants] attempted to whitewash a terrorist organization that has been staging violent acts; … that they deemed the state and its security forces as a heinous mechanism and tried to create this impression,” excerpts from the judgment read.
In another paragraph, the court referred to “the need for a genuine and national outlook on human rights” and wrote that this “concept will only be possible through the years of experience and viewpoint formed though our national traditions and brotherhood rather than the human rights concept which organizations and states that threaten our unity and our security have been hiding behind.”