...everybody knows that if you cross the red line - even though you have the right to express yourself - you'll have to stand in front of a prosecutor the following day, or more.
Erol Önderoğlu proves that even the most draconian governments can stumble when faced with the power of solidarity.
Erol Önderoğlu is a journalist and free speech activist born in Istanbul, Turkey. After studying French philology at the University of Istanbul, Önderoglu joined the IPS Communication Foundation - Bianet, as a journalist, in 1995. The following year, he joined Paris-based NGO Reporters without Borders (RSF) as its Turkey correspondent. He continues to work for both organisations, which are active members of IFEX, the global network of organisations committed to defending and promoting the right to freedom of expression and information. Önderoğlu was elected to the IFEX Council in 2015. He also works with the Office of the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media on publications and projects.
Throughout his career, Önderoğlu has been committed to supporting fellow journalists and defending free speech. He speaks about covering issues that minorities face, and denounces attempts to censor such coverage. In an interview with Protection International, he noted: “When journalists speak about problems – the unemployment of the Alevi minority, for example – or the discrimination this community suffers, [they] should be protected by these laws, but in fact it's not the case. These journalists are liable to jail, while nationalist circles allow themselves to set other groups of the population against minorities, such as the Kurds, the Armenians, [and] the Greeks...”
On 20 June 2016, Turkish authorities arrested Önderoğlu, along with forensic doctor and head of Human Rights Foundation of Turkey Şebnem Koru Fincancı and journalist and writer Ahmet Nesin.
The three were charged with "terrorist propaganda" for participating in a solidarity campaign in which journalists and activists have been taking turns acting as co-editors of the Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem to protest its persistent harassment by judicial authorities. They were among 44 journalists and activists who have participated in the solidarity campaign that began on 3 May 2016, World Press Freedom Day, and ended with the forced closure of the newspaper in August 2016.
On 30 June 2016, Önderoğlu, Fincancı and Nesin were released on parole and their trial opened in November 2016. Since then there have been several hearings. The most recent one took place on 18 April 2018; the next is due on 4 October 2018. Other similar trials have in the past taken several years to conclude.
Önderoğlu's arrest prompted an international outcry. RSF launched a petition urging authorities to release him and his colleagues, and to drop all charges. IFEX members from around the world expressed their support via statements and social media, and representatives of international bodies, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and OSCE media freedom representative Dunja Mijatović also called for his immediate release. In March, ARTICLE 19 submitted to the court an amicus brief challenging the legitimacy of the charges against Önderoğlu and his co-defendants. As the numbers of journalists arrested mount, global advocacy on their behalf by IFEX members and beyond has also increased with more petitions, protests inside and outside Turkey, delegations visiting the country and attending trials.
Önderoğlu was given the Roosevelt Foundation's Freedom of Speech Award in 2018.