Özgür Gündem (Turkish for "Free Agenda") was an Istanbul-based daily newspaper in Turkish language that was mainly read by people of Kurdish origin. Launched in May 1992, the newspaper was known for its extensive reporting on the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, and was therefore regularly accused of making propaganda for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Its editors and staff have frequently been arrested and tried and resulted in multiple publication bans within Turkey. Since April 1994, the publication continued under different names until Özgür Gündem was relaunched on 14 April 2011.
On 16 August 2016, the newspaper was "temporarily" shut down following a court order, and some twenty journalists and editors were taken into custody. While others were released, novelist and Özgür Gündem columnist Aslı Erdoğan, editor in-chief Zana Kaya and newsroom editor İnan Kızılkaya remained imprisoned, facing charges of "membership of a terrorist organisation" and "undermining national unity." The closed newspaper was quickly succeeded by the digital newspaper Özgürlükçü Demokrasi ("Libertarian democracy"), which features a daily column "Aslı’s Friends". Its website was not accessible in Turkey.
- Toplumsal Diriliş (Social Revival), started publishing on 15 June 1988 only for a short time, because many editions were confiscated
- Halk Gerçeği (People's Reality), was published between 22 April 1990 and 24 June 1990
- Yeni Halk Gerçeği (New People's Reality), appeared between 26 August and 16 September 1990, closure on decision of publishers
- Yeni Ülke (New Land), begin of publication: 20 October 1990; of the 110 editions 40 were confiscated.
Initiatives for a daily newspaper dealing with Kurdish issues in Turkey started in 1991. Under the leadership of the journalist Ragıp Duran, Özgür Gündem (Free Agenda) began publication on 30 May 1992 and reached a circulation of up to 60,000. Due to financial restraints it stopped publication between 15 January and 26 April 1993.
From the beginning the paper was particularly known for its extensive coverage of the ongoing conflict between the Turkish Armed Forces and the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a Kurdish guerrilla army, which was being downplayed by mainstream Turkish media. One of the first editors-in-chief was the Turkish journalist Ocak Işık Yurtçu. During Yurtçu's tenure as editor, the paper's circulation grew to more than 100,000, a record for an independent Turkish paper.
The work was also dangerous, however, and in 1992 alone, four journalists from Özgür Gündem were assassinated by unknown attackers. According to The Committee to Protect Journalists, the paper's staff were also subject to "a concerted campaign of arrests, bans and trials" by the Turkish government, forcing the paper's temporary closure in April 1994. On 10 December 1993 the offices of the paper in Istanbul were raided and more than 90 people were detained. Between 9 and 11 December 1993 the offices in Diyarbakır, Izmir, Adana, Mersin and other places were raided, too, resulting in more detentions. When a ban on publishing issued by the State Security Court in Istanbul on 18 November 1993 had become legally binding the paper had to close down on 14 April 1994. Of the 580 editions 486 had been confiscated. Ten editors-in-chief stayed in pre-trial detention for periods of two to six months. The sentences against Ocak Işık Yurtçu amounted to 20 years' imprisonment. The sentences of former editor-in-chief Şeyh Davut Karadağ totalled 38 years' imprisonmentand he decided to go abroad. Its publisher Yaşar Kaya, who was also chair of political party DEP received a 4 years sentence accused of separatism the 18 February 1994 due to a speech he held at a KDP congress in Erbil on 15 August 1993. He was released on bail, and he fled to Europe.
Follow-ups to Özgür Gündem (1994–2011)
There are a number of successors to Özgür Gündem or rather the paper often changed its name for being able to continue the publication, since courts kept to issue bans on publishing the dailies or weeklies that followed the same line as Özgür Gündem. The names and dates (begin and end) of appearance of successors to Özgür Gündem are:
Name (tr) Name (en) begin end Özgür Ülke Free Land 28 April 1994 2 February 1995 Yeni Politika New Politics 13 April 1995 16 August 1995 Demokrasi Democracy 12 December 1996 3 May 1997 Ülkede Gündem Agenda in the Country 7 July 1997 23 October 1998 Özgür Bakış Free View 18 April 1999 24 April 2000 2000'de Yeni Gündem New Agenda in 2000 27 April 2000 31 May 2001 Yedinci Gündem Seventh Agenda 23 June 2001 30 August 2002 Yeniden Özgür Gündem New Free Agendy 2 September 2003 28 February 2004 Ülkede Özgür Gündem Free Agenda in the Country 1 March 2004 16 November 2006 Toplumsal Demokrasi Social Democracy 16 November 2006 5 January 2007
There were a number of further names of newspapers that appeared between 2007 and 2001 such as
- Gerçek Demokrasi (Real Democracy)
- Güncel (Current)
- YedinciGün (7th Day), it started on 5 November 2007
Development since 2011
Özgur Gündem resumed publishing after 17 years on 4 April 2011. On 23 December 2011, nine Özgür Gündem staff members were arrested in a raid on the office by the Istanbul police, who accused the nine of links to the PKK. Thirty-one journalists were detained at other newspapers on the same days. Reporters Without Borders criticized the arrests, stating that it was "very concerned" that the Turkish government was attempting to "criminalize journalism, including politically committed journalism". As of March 2012, the nine remained imprisoned.
On 24 March 2012, the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul decided for a publication ban of one month under the allegations of "propaganda for an illegal organization". Bianet, (Independent News Agency), also reported that "the punishment is based on news, comments and photographs on pages 1, 8, 9, 10 and 11 of the Saturday issue. The court also decided to confiscate the complete issues of 24 and 25 March."
Editor Huseyin Aykol alleged that the newspaper had since April 2011 faced "such a huge number of arrests and such intense pressure". The Committee to Protect Journalists stated that it was "outraged" at the ban, describing it as part of a pattern of "trumped-up charges to silence press outlets that cover sensitive issues". Responding to this and other criticisms, Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin stated that a pending government-backed judicial reform package would, among numerous other provisions, prevent such bans in the future.
The Ministry of Justice, in a statement on 27 March 2012, announced that the closing-down of press and media organizations will be rendered impossible following the adoption of the "package for the speeding up the judicial services," which was submitted to the Turkish Grand National Assembly in January 2012. The ban was lifted on 30 March 2012.
At least seven editors and writers associated with the pro-Kurdish daily Özgür Gündem (The Free Agenda) were among 27 journalists still being held in August 2012 after being arrested in a massive government sweep on 20 and 21 December 2011. Authorities said the roundup was related to their investigation into the banned Union of Communities in Kurdistan, or KCK, of which the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) is part. In most cases, the journalists faced up to 15 years in prison upon conviction. The hearing of 12 September 2012 was adjourned to 12 November 2012.
On 16 August 2016 the 8th Magistrates Court of Istanbul ordered a "temporary shutdown" of the Özgür Gündem publication on grounds of publishing "terror propaganda" allegedly supporting the PKK. No duration for the closure was specified in the court order. The closure was followed up with police raids during which several of the paper's staff were taken into custody. novelist and Özgür Gündem columnist Aslı Erdoğan, editor in-chief Zana Kaya and newsroom editor İnan Kızılkaya remained imprisoned, facing charges of "membership of a terrorist organisation" and "undermining national unity." The paper was quickly succeeded by Özgürlükçü Demokrasi ("Libertarian democracy"), which saw its first issue on 23 August 2016 and features a daily column "Aslı’s Friends".
Campaign for the release of Ocak Işık Yurtçu (1993–1997)
Ocak Işık Yurtçu held the position of an editor-in-chief of Özgür Gündem for eight months. For the articles that were published during this time he was indicted 26 times under Articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Anti-Terror Law and Article 159 and 312 of the Turkish Penal Code. When the first sentences passed on him had been confirmed by the Court of Cassation Yurtçu was arrested in Istanbul on 28 December 1994.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists soon selected Yurtçu as an "emblematic case" for Turkish press freedom, at a time when Turkey had more imprisoned journalists than any other nation. Former journalist hostage Terry A. Anderson led the CPJ's campaign to free Yurtçu, hoping to win his freedom first as a "concession" and then use it as leverage to press for the freedom of other imprisoned Turkish journalists.
Reporters Without Borders also campaigned for his release, asking European journalists to adopt Yurtçu through their "godfather" system. One of these, a reporter from the French newspaper Le Figaro, was critical of the reaction of other Turkish media to Yurtçu's detention, stating that "Turkish journalists lag behind their Western counterparts in expressing their support for Yurtcu… If it hadn't been for the [Reporters Without Borders] campaign, no one would be interested in his case." In 1996, Yurtçu and Özgür Gündem were awarded the International Press Freedom Award of the Committee to Protect Journalists, "an annual recognition of courageous journalism".
On 14 August 1997, the Turkish parliament unanimously passed a limited amnesty for Yurtçu and several other jailed editors. Yurtçu was released from Saray Prison the following day. Upon leaving prison, Yurtçu was given a bouquet of flowers by the prison prosecutor.
Judgments of the European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has repeatedly passed judgments on convictions and bans around Özgür Gündem and its successors and articles published there. See List of ECHR cases concerning Article 10 in Turkey. In addition, in Kiliç v. Turkey (2000) it held Turkey responsible for breaching Article 2 by failing to protect the life of Özgür Gündem correspondent Kemal Kılıç, and for failing to hold a proper investigation into his assassination on 18 February 1993.
- "Turkey arrests novelist Aslı Erdoğan over 'terror' charges". Hürriyet Daily News. 20 August 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
- "Turkey: renowned author and activist Aslı Erdoğan imprisoned". English PEN. 22 August 2016. Retrieved 30 August 2016.
- Remarks are taken from a report in Yeni Özgür Politika of 10 May 2012 entitled ‘Susturulamayanlar’ın tarihi kitaplaştı (History of this that could not be silence published in a book). This book was written by the publishing director of Özgür Gündem, Hüseyin Aykol. Accessed on 26 October 2012
- See a commentary of Ragıp Zarakolu in Özgür Gündem of 19 September 2012 Işığı da yolcu ettik Pantheona; accessed on 24 October 2012
- See the annual report 1994 of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (HRFT), ISBN 975 7217 04 2, English edition, Ankara, September 1995, page 254.
- "The International Press Freedom Awards: Ocak Isik Yurtçu". Committee to Protect Journalists. 1996. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- See the annual report 1993 of the HRFT, Ankara June 1994, (Turkish edition), p. 239-246
- See the annual report 1994 of the HRFT, Ankara September 1995, (Turkish edition), ISBN 975 7217 05 0 p. 253-266
- An interview with Bayram Balcı in the daily Radikal of 18 March 2011 İki yılda 27 çalışanı öldürüldü (In two years 27 staff members were killed); accessed on 26 October 2012
- Laizer, S. J. (1996). Martyrs, Traitors, and Patriots: Kurdistan After the Gulf War. Zed Books. pp. 148–149. ISBN 9781856493963.
- "Ankara Media Reaction Report Monday, October 27, 2008". Retrieved 27 October 2008.
- Details were taken from a German Wiki "B-Ob8tungen" under the title Freie Presse oder Partei im Kurdenkonflikt? (Free Press or Party in the Kurdish Conflict; accessed on 30 October 2012
- Firat News Agency, 2 December 2010, Özgür Ülke: the bombing of a Kurdish newspaper 16 years ago
- 4 December 2010, Özgür Ülke: the story behind the bombings
- Nilay Vardar (26 March 2012). "Publication Ban for Özgür Gündem Newspaper". Bianet. Retrieved 29 March 2012.
- "Police Arrest 40 Journalists on Suspicion of Kurdish Separatist Links". Reporters Without Borders. 20 December 2011. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
- "Turkey must lift ban on pro-Kurdish daily". Committee to Protect Journalists. 26 March 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2012.
- Ece Toksabay (25 March 2012). "Turkish court bans pro-Kurdish daily for month-editor". Reuters. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
- "Minister Ergin: No more closure of newspapers with new judicial reform". Today's Zaman. 27 March 2012. Retrieved 27 March 2012.
- See an article in Bianet of 23 July 2012 Journalists Rise Against Anti-Terror Law; accessed on 1 November 2012
- See parts of a report by CPJ Turkey's Press Freedom Crisis Appendix I: Journalists in Prison; accessed on 1 November 2012
- See the daily reports of the Human Rights Foundation of Turkey for 13 September 2012; accessed on 1 November 2012
- "Pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper shut down". D8 News. 16 August 2016. Retrieved 16 August 2016.
- "Özgürlükçü Demokrasi çıktı" [Özgürlükçü Demokrasi launched]. Yeni Özgür Politika (in Turkish). 24 August 2016. Retrieved 29 August 2016.
- See an article in German of Reporters Without Borders of November 1995 Ocak Isik Yurtçu; accessed on 25 October 2012
- Hal Piper (27 March 1998). "Perils for press in a lethal world". Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- "International press freedom awardee Ocak Isik Yurtcu released from prison; move follows government amnesty for jailed editors". International Freedom of Expression Exchange. 18 August 1997. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- "Isik Yurtcu Receives Journalist of the Year Award in Sakarya Prison". Hürriyet Daily News. 27 December 1996. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- "CPJ International Press Freedom Awards 2011". Committee to Protect Journalists. 2011. Retrieved 17 January 2012.
- "Journalist Isik Yurtcu released from prison". Hürriyet Daily News. 18 August 1997. Retrieved 26 January 2012.
- Further cases include:
- 13 February 2003 Çetin and Others v. Turkey (application nos. 40153/98 and 40160/98)
- 13 February 2003 Erkanlı v. Turkey (no. 37721/97) Friendly settlement
- 9 October 2003 Demirtaş v. Turkey (no. 37048/97) Friendly settlement. They and others can be found using the search page for judgments of the ECtHR
- ECHR, KILIÇ v. TURKEY (Application no. 22492/93), 28 March 2000