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April 26, 2018

13 Turkish opposition newspaper staff convicted of terrorism offences after trial ‘aimed at silencing’ their reporting

By Charlotte Tobitt

Thirteen members of staff at a Turkish opposition newspaper have been convicted of terrorism charges, with sentences ranging between two and seven years.

Cumhuriyet, a daily newspaper based in Istanbul, said in an article the trial had been “aimed at silencing” its work speaking out against the Turkish government.

Thirteen staff members, including the newspaper’s editor-in-chief, lawyer and multiple board members, were yesterday handed prison sentences after being accused of supporting groups labelled by authorities as terror organisations.

These include the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, and Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, who is sought for alleged involvement in the failed July 2016 coup.

Those convicted were released, pending appeal, but were banned from leaving the country.

The convicted journalists are:

  • Akin Atalay, managing director – seven years, 13 months
  • Murat Sabuncu, editor-in-chief – seven years, six months
  • Kadri Gürsel, columnist – two years, six months
  • Aydın Engin, columnist – seven years, six months
  • Hikmet Çetinkaya, columnist – six years, three months
  • Ahmet Şık, reporter – seven years, six months

Atalay, speaking after being released from 541 days’ detention, was quoted in the Cumhuriyet newspaper as saying: “There is no justice where there is fear. There is no justice in Turkey.

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“Our business is with the system and not people. The important thing is for everyone not to see that there is no fair trial in Turkey.

“They can no longer instil fear. They cannot instil fear in Cumhuriyet newspaper. We will continue to convey the truth to our readers. They threatened, applied an embargo and held us hostage.

“From now on our colleagues will show how news reporting is done. We will not be spiteful. I am overjoyed, but there are hundreds of journalists and academics behind bars. It is everyone’s solemn duty to get them out.”

A number of the convicted journalists said after their sentencing that journalism is not a crime.

Çetinkaya told Cumhuriyet: “I wrote for years in Cumhuriyet newspaper about who Fethullah Gülen was and his aims. I am accused of aiding Gülen and I reject all of this.”

Nina Ognianova, of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said: “We condemn the convictions handed down to Cumhuriyet journalists by a justice system so compromised it should be on trial itself.

“Conflating journalism with terrorism is a transparently cynical ploy by the Turkish authorities to shut down the press. We call for all of these verdicts to be overturned on appeal.”

Three of the staff members put on trial were acquitted, while two more had proceedings ended against them as they are not in the country.

Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index announced this week, falling two places from 2017.

Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres), which compiles the index, said the “witch hunt” waged by President Erdogan against its media critics has “come to a head” since the failed coup in July 2016, when the Cumhuriyet staff members were arrested.

The campaign group says: “Turkey is again the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, with members of the press spending more than a year in prison before trial and long jail sentences becoming the new norm—in some cases, journalists are sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of a pardon.

“Detained journalists and closed media outlets are denied any effective legal recourse. The rule of law is a fading memory under the now all-powerful president.”

Picture: Reuters/Osman Orsal

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