Professor Şebnem Korur Fincancı, an academic and the president of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV), was arrested on 20 June 2016 for participating in a solidarity campaign for the shuttered pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem.
An investigation was launched against Fincancı for standing in as the editor-in-chief of the daily for a day as part of the “Co-Editor-in-Chief on Duty Campaign,” which began on 3 May 2016, World Press Freedom Day, and lasted for 100 days.
Fincancı was jailed pending trial on the charge of “terrorism propaganda.”
Two separate indictments were issued on 22 June 2016 against Fincancı, Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu and journalist Ahmet Nesin, both of whom were also detained as part of the same investigation.
The indictment against Fincancı and Önderoğlu was sent to the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul while the one against Nesin was sent to the 14th High Criminal Court. Nesin’s case file was later merged with the case against Fincancı and Önderoğlu on the grounds of “legal and de facto connection” between the case files. The responsible managing editor of Özgür Gündem, İnan Kızılkaya, was a suspect in both files due to his responsibility regarding all news material published in the daily.
The indictments accused Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin of “openly inciting to committing crimes,” “praising crime or a criminal” and “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” as per article 7/2 of the Law on the Fight against Terrorism (TMK) and article 214 of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).
The 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which accepted the indictment, ordered the relase of Fincancı and Önderoğlu. Fincancı was released pending trial from the Bakırköy Women’s Prison on 30 June 2016 after spending 10 days in pre-trial detention.
The first hearing of the case was held on 8 November 2016. While Fincancı and Önderoğlu were present in the courtroom, Nesin and Kızılkaya did not attend. In her written defense statement presented to the court, Fincancı rejected the accusations. Fincancı said she willingly participated in the Özgür Gündem solidarity campaign as a human rights defender during a time when the newspaper and its staff were undergoing investigations and detentions. The court rejected the lawyers’ requests for immediate acquittal and adjourned the trial until 11 January 2017.
Fincancı and Önderoğlu were in attendance at the second hearing on 11 January 2017. During the hearing, Kızılkaya’s file was separated and merged with the main Özgür Gündem trial. The court postponed the trial until 21 March 2017, awaiting Nesin’s defense statement.
The eighth hearing was held on 28 January 2019. Fincancı and Önderoğlu were in attendance. The court lifted the arrest warrant for Nesin after receiving his defense statement that was taken abroad and translated into Turkish and sent the case file to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion.
Prosecutor's final opinion
Submitting their final opinion on 27 February 2019, the prosecutor demanded sentence for all three defendants for “terrorism propaganda” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, “incitement to commit crime” under TCK Article 214/1 and “praising an offense and an offender” under TCK Article 215/1.
The 11th and final hearing of the case took place on 17 July 2019. Fincancı was in attendance to make here defense statement, accompanied by her lawyer. Her co-defendants Nesin and Önderoğlu were not in attendance. After hearing the final defense statements, the court delivered its verdict, acquitting Fincancı, Önderoğlu and Nesin of all charges.
On 20 October 2020, the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reversed the acquittals. In its unanimous ruling, the appellate court held that the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court’s judgment was “against procedural law.”
The retrial of Fincancı and her co-defendants began on 3 February 2021. The court decided to abide by the appellate court’s reversal decision. Ruling to seek the Istanbul 23rd High Criminal Court’s permission to merge the case with the “Özgür Gündem Main Trial,” the court set 6 May 2021 as the date for the next hearing.
At the third hearing held on 1 February 2022, the court decided to wait for the response to letters rogatory issued for Nesin and to inquire about İnan Kızılkaya’s permanent address in order to issue a witness summons for the journalist. The next hearing is set for 14 June 2022.
Academics for Peace trial
Fincancı was also accused of “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization” in a separate trial, where the accusation stemmed from the Academics for Peace petition in January 2016. The first hearing of this trial took place on 6 March 2018 at the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. The court rejected Fincancı’s request for immediate acquittal and adjourned the trial until 4 October 2018.
At the end of the final hearing of this trial on 19 December 2018, the court convicted Fincancı of "propaganda" and sentenced her to 2 years and 6 months in prison. The sentence was not deferred and no reductions were granted.
Ruling on the individual applications filed by 10 academics who were sentenced in the Academics for Peace trials, the Constitutional Court held in its judgment dated 26 July 2019 that the trials violated the academics' freedom of expression. Accordingly, the 37th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, which held a retrial on 7 July 2020, ruled for Fincancı's acquittal.
Trial on "insulting a public official" charge
Fincancı was charged with "insulting a public official" over a social media post she shared in 2013, during Turkey's nationwide Gezi Park protests. The trial was overseen by Istanbul's Anadolu 42nd Criminal Court of First Instance. The final hearing of this trial was held on 16 February 2021. After hearing Fincancı and her lawyer’s final defense statements, the Anadolu 42nd Criminal Court sentenced Fincancı to a judicial fine of TL7,080 on the charge of “insulting a public official.”