Turkish court sentences Cumhuriyet journalists to jail time

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A Turkish court on April 25 convicted journalists from daily Cumhuriyet for helping outlawed “terrorist” organizations.

The court in Istanbul’s Silivri handed out multiple sentences to 13 journalists and executives for “aiding and abetting terror organizations without being a member” but they remain free pending appeal.

“No penalty can stop us from doing journalism. If needed, we will go to prison again but we will continue to do journalism,” said editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, who was among those convicted after the verdict.

The judge ordered the release of Cumhuriyet chairman Akın Atalay who had been in jail for over 500 days despite his conviction.

Greeted by his wife Adalet and a crowd of supporters shortly after he walked free from prison, Atalay said Cumhuriyet daily would not succumb to pressure or threats.

“As we have always said, they cannot intimidate the Cumhuriyet newspaper, which will continue to tell the truth to its readers,” he told reporters.

Atalay said they had been taken “hostage” and a “ransom” was demanded for the newspaper.

“This newspaper cannot be bought with money … Our colleagues will show them how journalism is done,” he said.

Support from lawmakers

Atalay attended the 56th “Justice Watch” held at the atrium of the Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse on April 26 in support of persecuted lawyers of the daily Cumhuriyet with the lawmakers Filiz Kerestecioğlu and Sezgin Tanrıkulu.

“I wish freedom for all political prisoners. I wish a free, happy, livable future for this country. We will found it together. We will be living in a country that we can breath more easily in,” said Kerestecioğlu, a member of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), referring to the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Tanrıkulu, a member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), pointed out that the case against Cumhuriyet was aimed at its institutional identity.

“The verdict of the court will be a document of commendation for our friends sentenced. It will go down in history as a penal record for those who have given that verdict,” he said.

Three were acquitted

Accountant Emre İper was also convicted on separate charges of making terror propaganda and sentenced to three years and one month in prison.

Three others, including the paper’s books supplement editor Turhan Günay were acquitted.

They were all charged with supporting, through their coverage, three organizations, outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the ultra-leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), blamed for the 2016 failed coup.

Supporters of the accused repeatedly said the charges against the journalists were absurd and the trial was political.

Investigative reporter Ahmet Şık is among those convicted. Şık is seen as one of Turkey’s most incisive critics of the Gülen movement and in 2011 wrote an explosive book “The Imam’s Army,” which exposed the grip the group had on key Turkish institutions.

He was given a seven-and-a-half year sentence while journalist Kadri Gürsel was sentenced to two years and six months.

Gürsel said the verdict was “a serious blow” to press freedom.

“This means an ultimatum and a threat directed against people who have announced their determination and insistence to do journalism,” the commentator told AFP.

The court handed cartoonist Musa Kart a sentence of three years and nine months while Sabuncu was sentenced to seven years and six months.

Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner Milena Buyum lambasted the trial during which the prosecution “failed to produce a shred of evidence” of any criminal wrongdoing.

“These politically motivated sentences are clearly intended to instill fear and silence any form of dissent,” she said in a statement.

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