Lawyer and human rights defender Eren Keskin, although not a journalist by profession, faces a total of 129 trials for briefly assuming the post of co-editor-in-chief of the shuttered Özgür Gündem daily in an act of solidarity with the pro-Kurdish newspaper.
Keskin was sentenced to a total of 7.5 years in prison along with former Özgür Gündem managing editor Reyhan Çapan in two separate trials on 29 March 2018: one on the charge of “denigrating Turkishness, the Republic, and the foundation and institutions of the state” and the other for “insulting the president.”
Speaking during a press conference and solidarity event on 3 April 2018 at the Istanbul branch of the Human Rights Association (İHD), Keskin expressed her frustration with the rulings. “Giving someone such a lengthy prison sentence for merely appearing as the editor-in-chief of a newspaper is in breach of all [international human rights] conventions where Turkey is a signatory. The Turkish Republic is not a constitutional state, we already know that, but why do European Union members who have also signed these conventions remain silent?”
Seventy-nine of the trials against Keskin have been concluded as of 3 April 2018. Keskin has been sentenced to a total of 12.5 years in prison and fined a total amount of TL 456,000 (93,000 euros) in those cases. Most of the cases are currently pending appeal. The total amount of the judicial fines upheld is TL 105,000 (21,400 euros). Keskin will have to spend a day in prison for every TL 20 she fails to pay. Among the 79 trials against Keskin that have been finalized to date, only four were dismissed due to either acquittal or the statute of limitations.
"Özgür Gündem main trial"
A travel ban against Keskin in the "Özgür Gündem main trial" was lifted by a decision of the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court on 10 October 2018, at the end of the 10th hearing in the long-running case, which began in 2016.
Keskin faces life imprisonment in the trial, in which she is indicted alongside eight other defendants including writer Aslı Erdoğan and linguist Necmiye Alpay, both of whom were on the newspaper’s advisory board, as well as the newspaper’s former responsible managing editor İnan Kızılkaya and publisher Kemal Sancılı.
The charges in the “Özgür Gündem main trial,” overseen by the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul, are “disrupting the integrity of the state and the unity of the nation,” “membership in a terrorist organization” and “terrorism propaganda.”
At the latest hearing of this case, held on 10 April 2019, the court ruled to issue a memo to the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul concerning the merging of the files against Eren Keskin. The court also ruled to hand over the case file to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion and adjourned the trial until 3 July 2019.
At the 16th hearing of the “Özgür Gündem main trial,” held on 14 February 2020, the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul acquitted Necmiye Alpay, Bilge Aykut and Aslı Erdoğan of the charges against them.
Eren Keskin, Zana Kaya, İnan Kızılkaya and Kemal Sancılı’s files were separated. Keskin and three of her co-defendants were granted additional time for their final defense statements. The next hearing in their trial is scheduled for 9 September 2020.
Trial on "propaganda" charge
Eren Keskin appeared before the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 21 May 2019 for the final hearing of her trial -- along with 23 other defendants that included former Özgür Gündem editors and columnists -- on the charges of “praising crime or a criminal,” “inciting crime” and “disseminating terrorist propaganda.”
Addressing the court for her defense statement, Keskin said she had her name included in the newspaper’s masthead for the sole purpose of defending freedom of the press. Keskin said that she supported freedom of thought and expression. She added: “I don’t believe I have committed a crime. I don’t believe thought is a crime. I request my acquittal.”
Keskin's lawyer Özcan Kılıç reminded the court that his client had her name in the newspaper’s masthead to lend support to the newspaper and that it was out of question that she had a say in the news stories and articles published in the newspaper. Kılıç added that punishing Hüseyin Aykol, Eren Keskin and Reyhan Çapan would be against the principle of individual criminal responsibility. He ended his defense statement by saying “I insist that you don’t render a verdict at this stage but if you must do so, I request acquittal. And I request for the case file of Eren Keskin to be merged with the case file overseen by the 23rd High Criminal Court of Istanbul.”
Asked for their final words before the announcement of the verdict, Eren Keskin and Reyhan Çapan requested to be acquitted. At the end of the hearing, the court convicted Keskin and six other defendants, including Co-Editor-in-Chief Hüseyin Akyol, managing editor Reyhan Çapan, columnists Reyhan Hacıoğlu and Ayşe Batumlu, of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Keskin and Çapan were each given a prison sentence of 3 years and 9 months. The sentences were not deferred.