A Turkish court agreed on Wednesday to study a request from the defense to remove a judge from the trial of three activists facing terrorism-related charges over their support for a pro-Kurdish newspaper, Agence France-Presse reported.
A lower court had just begun hearing the trial of the activists, including the country’s Reporters Without Borders (RSF) representative, before adjourning proceedings until Feb. 1 following submission of the request, which will also be reviewed by a higher court.
Erol Önderoğlu, the Turkey representative for RSF, and his co-defendants face 14.5 years in prison for taking part in a campaign to support a newspaper that was shut down in 2016 for alleged links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
The Özgür Gündem paper was shuttered after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan launched a crackdown on opposition media and his political rivals following a failed coup in July 2016.
Defense lawyers asked the court on Wednesday to remove Murat Bircan, one of the judges, because of his affiliation with Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), saying that his presence undermines the possibility of a fair trial.
“It’s important for us to at least have the appearance of a clean ‘jury’ when there is clear political interference in the judiciary in Turkey,” Önderoğlu told AFP after the hearing.
This trial is one of the most striking examples of the absence of an independent judiciary in Turkey because of the presence of someone who led a campaign for the ruling AKP, according to RSF and human rights advocates.
The campaign in support of Özgür Gündem involved Önderoğlu and dozens of others taking turns editing the paper for a day to help it survive Erdoğan’s crackdown.
“In fact, we prefer to do our job rather than come to court and testify as defendants,” Önderoğlu said.
“Journalists need solidarity and support more than ever.”
The Turkish-language paper was popular in the country’s large Kurdish community but denied links to the PKK militants who have been waging an insurgency against the state since 1984 and is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community.
Tens of thousands have been jailed in Turkey or stripped of their government jobs during Erdoğan’s post-coup crackdown.