Aslı Erdoğan is a renowned novelist and human rights activist in Turkey. She was also a columnist for Özgür Gündem newspaper, a pro-Kurdish daily, and a member of its advisory board. On August 16, 2016, Erdoğan was detained from her home by Istanbul police. Her arrest came alongside the arrest of more than 20 other journalists and employees from Özgür Gündem, which was shut down by decree as part of the state of emergency in the country following the failed coup of July 15, 2016. Turkish courts stated that the outlet made “propaganda for the PKK,” the Kurdistan Workers Party, which is listed as a terrorist group, and acted “as its de facto news outlet.” On November 23, 2016, an Istanbul court dropped the charges of disrupting national unity against Erdoğan and eight others charged in the case; however, the terrorism charges still stand, and the initial indictment sought an aggravated life sentence for Erdoğan, as well as the other writers and activists associated with  Özgür Gündem. On December 29, 2016, as the trial opened, Erdoğan was granted a conditional release from detention, and was released under a travel ban that evening. The travel ban was lifted for both Erdoğan and fellow defendant Necmiye Alpay on June 22, 2017.  As a result,  Erdoğan escaped to Germany in self-imposed exile in order to avoid prosecution. The main trial of Erdoğan and her colleagues continued intermittently for several years. 

During the fifteenth hearing of the main trial of the Özgür Gündem newspaper on January 13, 2020, prosecutors requested that Erdoğan be sentenced to between 1 year, 9 months and 9 years, 4 months in prison for “making propaganda for a terrorist organization.” However, at the final hearing in her case on February 14, Erdoğan was acquitted of all charges of making terror propaganda. Currently living in exile in Germany, Erdoğan did not attend the hearing, but in a statement read out by her lawyer she said that her columns in Özgür Gündem did not contain any violent content. 

Case History

In her writing, Aslı Erdoğan tackles controversial issues such as torture, human rights violations in prisons, violence against women, and Kurdish rights. As a novelist, Aslı Erdoğan’s first novel, Kabuk Adam (Crust Man), was published in 1994 and has since published 7 books. Her short story “Wooden Birds” received the first place prize from Deutsche Welle radio in a 1997 competition, and her second novel, Kirmizi Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak), received numerous accolades abroad and has been published in English. Her texts have also been translated to French, and in 2005 she was shortlisted by respected French literary magazine, Lire, as one of the “50 most promising authors of tomorrow.” She has previously written for the Turkish left-wing newspaper Radikal. As a result, she has been persecuted, lost numerous jobs, has been subjected to smear campaigns, and has been forced into exile for several years.

Özgür Gündem, meaning “free agenda,” was founded in 1992 and reported on the Kurdish-Turkish conflict; the newspaper was frequently under investigation and fined, and many of its journalists arrested, until it was shuttered by decree in 2016.