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Turkish court clears journalists, human rights defender of terrorism charges

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An İstanbul court on Wednesday acquitted two prominent journalists and a human rights activist standing trial on terrorism charges, Reuters reported.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative Erol Önderoğlu, Human Rights Foundation of Turkey President Şebnem Korur Fincancı and columnist Ahmet Nesin were jailed briefly in 2016 but later released as their trial continued.

The defendants were accused of disseminating terrorist propaganda and incitement to crime after guest-editing Özgur Gündem, a newspaper on Kurdish issues, and campaigning against efforts to censor it.

Lawyer Meriç Eyüboğlu said the verdict was bittersweet because others who also guest-edited the newspaper had received jail sentences. “We were thinking that they would receive a sentence because of the verdicts in other similar cases and the political juncture we are going through,” she said.

Eyüboğlu said Önderoğlu also faces a separate legal case for supporting academics put on trial for signing a letter calling for an end to the conflict between Turkish security forces and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Özgür Gündem was closed down under a crackdown during a state of emergency after an abortive coup in July 2016 on grounds it spread propaganda for the PKK and acted as its de facto news outlet.

The newspaper focused on the conflict with the PKK in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish Southeast and has faced dozens of investigations, fines and arrests of correspondents since 2014.

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ordered Turkey in March to compensate the owner of Özgür Gündem after finding that criminal proceedings had been “systematically opened” against it.

The PKK, deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union, has waged a three-decade insurgency seeking autonomy for some 15 million Kurds in Turkey. More than 40,000 people have died in the violence.

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