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Required sentence of incompressible perpetuity, followed by acquittal. Followed by re-opening of trial, judgement on this February 10th, new acquittal for lack of evidence provided by the prosecution…

Aslı Erdoğan is thus acquitted of the accusation of “progapanda for a terrorist organization” during the second hearing held on February 10th 2022 at Tribunal N°23 in Istanbul.

Brief rewind:

In 2016 following the decision on its prohibition pronounced by decree, special operation forces of the police raided the building of Özgür Gündem in Istanbul and arrested 24 journalists, including staff of IMC TV and DIHA.

Legal proceedings were launched against the leaders, authors and staff of the newspaper for “propaganda for a terrorist organization” and “belonging to the organization”. During the trial known as “The main Özgür Gündem Case”, the following were brought forth for judgment: Necmiye Alpay, Aslı Erdoğan, Ragıp Zarakolu, Filiz Koçali, Eren Keskin, Zana Kaya, Kemal Sancılı, İnan Kızılkaya and Bilge Oykut.

On February 14 2020, Aslı Erdoğan, Necmiye Alpay and Bilge Aykut were acquitted and the files for Filiz Koçali and Ragıp Zarakolu who had not yet presented their depositions and against whom arrests were ordered, were split off from this trial.

One year later, on February 15 2021, Eren Keskin, Inana Kizilkaya and Kemal Sancil were sentended to 6 years and 3 months imprisonment for “belonging” and Zana Kaya received a 2 year and 1 month sentence.

On February 14, 2020, on hearing of the verdict announcing her acquittal, Aslı had told us: “I am glad to hear it, but I don’t trust them. They could start again at any time, as they have done for so many others.”

How right was Aslı’s lawyer, when he in turn declared:  “Trials that are opened and re-opened become full-time sentences in themselves.” A year and a half later, in November 2021, Aslı Erdoğan informed us of the re-opening of the trial against her in Turkey, or rather of an nth hiccup of Turkish injustice against her.

In summary, according to the new accusation, Aslı Erdoğan’s articles submitted as evidence at the trial were “also” published on the Özgür Gündem website, and as the writer’s acquittal had been pronounced without taking these digital versions into account, it was unjustified as pertained to them. Consequently, the acquittal was annulled and the trial re-opened…

With the date and place determined, the first hearing was scheduled for December 16 2021 before Penal Tribunal n° 23 in Istanbul.

And as Aslı would not like anyone hearing of such an absurdity to imagine her guilty of a persecution mania, it seems wise to point out that this judiciary harassment does indeed participate of a persecution mania, a real one, but by the political regime in Turkey which keeps on launching and re-opening trials against some while others, whose trials have not even begun, are kept “provisionally incarcerated ad vitam aeternam” for months or years. The case of Osman Kavala is a typical example of this latter scenario.

Yes, when one lives under the rule of law, it is hard to imaginethat justice can be subjected to orders to this extent, that it can hound  people relentlessly, even in “cases” that were already judged, finding protracted reasons to re-open them, using improbable penal law arguments as justification. And thus leaving these cases suspended like Damocles’ sword above the heads of the persecuted, brandishing demands for the application of the extremely severe penalty of incompressible perpetuity, substituted for the death sentence that was abolished in 2002 in Turkey.

Aslı lives in exile in Berlin. Her situation remains precarious. She, to whom were awarded numerous prizes after she was liberated from Turkish gaols, whose books have been translated and sold by the tens of thousands, that France named a “Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres”,  was once again considered a “dangerous terrorist” and is still designated as such because she has left her homeland which was persecuting her.

We all recall that when she was in prison, a strong campaign of solidarity developed internationally for “her liberation and the dropping of all the absurd charges brought against her and others with whom she was in solidarity” We had not spared our efforts then, until she was liberated.

But we have to wonder if such support, as was also the case around Zehra Doğan, would still be possible today, given the evolution of European “public opinions” into identitarian withdrawal, as attested by the focal point of grievances against migrants and the drawing away from even simply human reflexes on these questions. In that regard at least, the terrorism of ISIS has gained ground since inhumanity triumphs behind the demand for the closing of borders, security, questions of identity and of nationalism. All the pseudo values that had led to Aslı Erdoğan’s imprisonment  which served as an alarm for the rise of this climate in 2016. This is now a done deal, if one is to judge by the ongoing presidential electoral campaign in France.

In brief, Aslı Erdoğan did not go to Istanbul for the new hearing which took place on the scheduled date of December 16 2021. The hearing was cut short since the tribunal requested to see the digital articles published on a website shut down and suppressed by decree, the very ones the prosecutor wanted re-examined. Under the circumstances, this was really the very minimum of requirements.

But Özgür Gündem, a traditionally Kurdish newspaper, remains a forbidden media, thus shut down by decree in 2016, its journalists are imprisoned or in exile…When the State shuts down a media and its online website, where does one find, five years laters, the digital documents? There are recourses in this matter, but no one seems to have thought of them or to know about them.

Now, on February 10th 2022, at this second hearing, still in the absence of the digital documents supposed to support the accusation, the tribunal thus pronounced yet again, the acquittal of Aslı Erdoğan.

On the the next.

We talked about it on the phone yesterday afternoon.

Usually, our conversations with Asli deal more with personal exchanges, sometimes of an intimate nature, concerning her writing which we miss, her questions concerning life and exile… Two acquittals and still the threat remains suspended over her, with the constant risk of the naming of another prosecutor who will dig through the garbage in order to find a fallacious argument allowing for the re-opening of a “terrorism” file; such a situation does not allow for a light-hearted celebration of this decision of “justice”. What about Asli’s security should she set foot in Turkey again? And even in Berlin from which the grey wolves are not absent. Such are the preoccupations she confided, as we could well understand.

Writing in your own language when the State keeps a threat suspended over your head, even in exile, requires both time and fortitude. For her, the pandemic and health problems have accompanied all these uncertainties.

We mentioned it above, the identitarian withdrawal encouraged within European States is a harsh experience for exiles also. Although Germany is not the worst in this regard, the presence of a large Turkish nationalist community serves as a relay station for threats against “opponents” or those considered as such.

Aslı Erdoğan could thus not be brimming with joy in learning of a verdict that is only justice within an injustice. What comforts her is the knowledge that she is always supported by a readership in so many languages and that perhaps, at last, everyone will understand that her worries are not what matter, but rather a Kafkaesque reality at work in Turkey, one from which she suffers collateral damages, along with a condition of exile one cannot ever wish on anyone.


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Translation from French by Renée Lucie Bourges
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Naz Oke
REDACTION | Journaliste
Chat de gouttière sans frontières. Journalisme à l'Université de Marmara. Architecture à l'Université de Mimar Sinan, Istanbul.