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Turkey acquits British academic over ‘terror propaganda’ charges

ISTANBUL (AFP): A Turkish court on Thursday acquitted an Istanbul-based British academic who faced up to five years in prison on charges of distributing “terror propaganda” on behalf outlawed Kurdish militants.

The Istanbul court acquitted Chris Stephenson, who teaches computer science at Bilgi University in Istanbul, at the first hearing, Turkish television reports said. Stephenson confirmed on his Twitter feed that he had been found not guilty, writing simply “And acquittal”.

Stephenson was briefly arrested in mid March while protesting outside the city’s main courthouse over the detention of four Turkish academics who had been tried on similar charges.

Prosecutors had asked for Stephenson to be given a jail sentence of between one and five years on charges of “making propaganda for a terror organisation”, in reference to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).

The academic, who has been based in the country for 25 years, has ridiculed the charges, saying he was only carrying invitation leaflets for the Kurdish New Year celebrations later in the month.

The case further raised alarm over freedom of speech in Turkey, with individuals accused of backing the PKK or insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan facing sometimes severe legal punishment.

His acquittal comes days after Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Turkey representative and journalist Erol Onderoglu, journalist Ahmet Nesin and rights activist and academic Sebnem Korur Fincanci were charged with “terrorist propaganda” and remanded in custody.

They had all taken part in a campaign by pro-Kurdish Turkish daily Ozgur Gundem for prominent figures to guest-edit the newspaper on a daily basis. Media rights groups, the United Nations and the EU Commission have called for their release.