Turkey newspaper staff back on trial after almost 500 days jail

2018-03-10 21:40
A Turkish army special force officer stand guard as people arrive to the courthouse at Silivri district in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose, AFP)

A Turkish army special force officer stand guard as people arrive to the courthouse at Silivri district in Istanbul. (Ozan Kose, AFP)

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Silivri – The trial resumed on Friday of staff from Turkey's opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper seen as a test of press freedom under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, with two suspects now approaching their 500th day behind bars.

A total of 17 staff from Cumhuriyet (Republic) face terror charges in the case, with most now free pending the conclusion of the trial after a number of conditional releases.

However three senior members of staff – chairperson Akin Atalay, editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and investigative reporter Ahmet Sik – remain in detention to the outrage of supporters.

Sabuncu and Atalay have now spent the last 495 days in jail and Sik, who was detained a little after the initial wave of arrests, 434 days.

"End this persecution," said Cumhuriyet in its front page headline.

All three jailed suspects were present as the trial resumed at the courthouse in Silivri outside Istanbul, part of a complex that also contains the prison where they are held.

Also present were the defendants who were released last year after long stints in jail but remain charged, including cartoonist Musa Kart and columnist Kadri Gursel.

There was tension ahead of the opening of the hearing as anti-riot police with shields prevented supporters from giving statements to media in front of the courthouse.

'Unacceptable' detention

In the end, some managed to read brief statements in front of the line of police calling for the release of the staff, an AFP correspondent said.

"It is unacceptable for journalists to stay in prison that long just because they express their thoughts or publish headlines," Utku Cakirozer, an MP for the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), told AFP.

Unable to read his statement closer to the courthouse, fellow CHP MP Sezgin Tanrikulu added: "Justice cannot emerge out of this place but we are still here for our friends."

The latest hearing comes a day after an Istanbul court sentenced 25 journalists to prison terms of up to seven and a half years over links to the group of US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed by Turkey for the 2016 failed coup against Erdogan.

The Cumhuriyet staff are charged with supporting through their coverage three organisations Turkey views as terror groups – the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the Gulen movement.

They face up to 43 years in prison if convicted. Supporters say the charges are absurd, noting that the outlawed groups cited in the indictment are themselves at odds with each other. Dozens of journalists have been detained in the crackdown that followed the failed coup.

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