Duvar English / Reuters

An Istanbul court acquitted novelist Aslı Erdoğan on Feb. 14 of charges of belonging to a terrorist group, in one of a series of cases that have fueled concern among European Union states and rights groups about a deterioration of media freedom in Turkey.

Erdoğan, who is now living in self-imposed exile in Europe, was one of some two dozen staff from the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper who were detained in 2016 as part of an investigation into their alleged links the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) — deemed a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and European Union.

The court also acquitted her of “undermining national unity,” while charges of spreading terrorist propaganda were dropped.

Erdoğan told Deutsche Welle that she was satisfied with the court’s decision, but still felt hurt by the ordeal. “Three and a half years of my life were taken away from me,” Erdoğan said. 

She remained unapologetic about her innocence and the impact of her work. “I am not guilty of propaganda; it was clearly a work of literature. It was translated into so many languages, it was renowned. The trial was truly a disgrace.”

Two of her colleagues, Necmiye Alpay and Bilge Aykut, were acquitted of the three charges on Feb. 14, while the cases of six others were separated. The court did not set a date for the next session of their trial.

Erdoğan had faced a sentence of up to nine years and four months in jail if found guilty, although she has lived largely abroad since a travel ban was lifted against her in 2017.

At the time of her arrest, a court closed the newspaper on grounds of spreading propaganda of the PKK.

Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression at Risk Programs at PEN America, welcomed the acquittal.

“We are hugely relieved that novelist Aslı Erdoğan and writer and translator Necmiye Alpay have finally been acquitted on terrorism charges, after more than four years of judicial harassment,” she said in a statement.

“However, we continue to call for charges against their colleagues in the Özgür Gündem case to be dropped, and for all those wrongfully imprisoned in Turkey as a result of their peaceful free expression to be released.”

Özgür Gündem was among more than 130 media outlets which Turkey closed during a state of emergency declared following a failed military coup in July 2016 in a crackdown whose scale alarmed Ankara’s Western allies and rights groups.

Özgür Gündem had focused on the PKK conflict in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast and had faced many investigations, fines and the arrest of correspondents in the years before it was closed.