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 “disseminating propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Two separate indictments were issued on 22 June 2016 against Fincancı, Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) Turkey Representative Erol Önderoğlu and writer 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 cases 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, ruled in favor of the objection to Fincancı and Önderoğlu’s detentions on remand, ordering their release. 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 trial of Fincancı and her co-defendants was held on 8 November 2016 at the 13th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. 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.
At the end of the third hearing, the court issued an arrest warrant for Nesin for his defense statement to be taken and adjourned the trial until 8 June 2017.
At the end of the fourth hearing on 8 June 2017, the court ruled to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant against Nesin and adjourned the trial until 26 December 2017.
The fifth hearing took place on 26 December 2017. Reminding the expert opinions submitted to the court by RSF and Article 19, defense lawyers reiterated their request to apply to the Constitutional Court for the abolition of TCK Article 214. In its interim ruling, the court rejected the defense lawyers' request and ruled to wait for the execution of the arrest warrant against Nesin. The court set 18 April 2018 as the date for the next hearing.
The eighth hearing was held on 28 January 2019. Fincancı and Önderoğlu were in attendance. At the beginning of the hearing, the court added Ahmet Nesin’s defense statement that was taken abroad and translated into Turkish from its original in French to the case file, thus lifting the arrest warrant against Nesin. The court ruled to send the case file to the prosecution for the drafting of their final opinion and set 27 February 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
Prosecutor's final opinion
Submitting their final opinion during the hearing on 27 February 2019, the prosecution requested the court to sentence all three defendants for “spreading propaganda for a terrorist organization” under Article 7/2 of the Anti-Terror Law, “incitement to commit crime” under TCK Article 214/1 and “praising crime or criminals” under TCK Article 215/1. The combined prison term under the three charges is 14.5 years, although the prosecutor also requested the final term to be determined in accordance with Article 44 of the TCK, which states that in case a single act results in more than one offense, the offender is sentenced only for the offense that has the longest prison sentence. “Terrorism propaganda” carries the most severe sentence among the three accusations in the prosecutor’s final opinion, carrying a maximum sentence of 7.5 years in prison.
Neither Önderoğlu nor Fincancı made any statements during the hearing. The court adjourned the trial until 15 April 2019 to allow time for the defense statements.
The 10th hearing of the trial took place on 15 April 2019. Fincancı and Önderoğlu and lawyers Fikret İlkiz, Özcan Kılıç and Tora Pekin were in attendance.
Fincancı said her lawyer was in hospital and that she would make her final defense statement later, when her lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu is present in court. In its interim ruling, the court granted Fincancı and Nesin additional time and adjourned the trial until 17 July 2019.
The 11th and final hearing of the trial 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 announced 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 the case. In its unanimous ruling, the appellate court held that the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court’s acquittal judgment was “against procedural law.”
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 Constitonal Court's Plenary held in its judgment dated 26 July 2019 that the trials violated the academics' right to 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 is also standing trial on the charge of "insulting a public official" over a social media post she shared in 2013, during Turkey's nationwide Gezi Park protests. The trial is overseen by Istanbul's Anadolu 42nd Criminal Court of First Instance.
The third hearing of this trial was held on 21 November 2019. Addressing the court for her defense statement, Fincancı said she "did not insult a public official, but exposed torture" in the social media post for which she is accused. Accepting the lawyers' request for a continuance, the court adjourned the trial until 17 March 2020.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the hearing that was scheduled for March was postponed until 2 July 2020. However, the trial was once again postponed on that day since the judge was on leave. The next hearing of this trial is set for 16 February 2021.