Turkish court sentences 13 journalists to prison on terrorism charges

Agencies | Published: April 26, 2018 11:28:26 | Updated: April 28, 2018 15:11:04

Turkish journalists gathered to protest against the jailing of Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar in Istanbul - Reuters file photo

A Turkish court has sentenced 13 journalists to prison on terrorism charges, in a case that has sparked global outrage over press freedom.

The journalists were employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, which had taken a strong line against the Turkish government.

Three of the journalists on trial were acquitted. Those convicted remain free while an appeal is pending, the BBC reports.

They were arrested during a crackdown after a failed coup in July 2016.

Turkish authorities have accused Cumhuriyet's staff of supporting groups it has labelled terror organisations, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, and the cleric Fetullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of masterminding the failed coup.

Mr Gulen is living in self-imposed exile in the US, where authorities have refused to extradite him to Turkey.

Prosecutors had sought sentences of up to 43 years in jail for the Cumhuriyet staff, according to a Reuters report.

They charged the newspaper was effectively taken over by supporters of the cleric Gulen, particularly after 2013 under Dundar’s stewardship.

More than 50,000 people were arrested and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of the attempted coup, including journalists, police, military personnel, teachers and public servants.

The 13 journalists and executives convicted on Wednesday include some of the country's most prominent commentators, such as editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, cartoonist Musa Kart, and columnist Kadri Gursel.

The paper's chairman, Akin Atalay was sentenced to seven years in prison, after already serving 500 days.

Founded in 1924, Cumhuriyet had maintained fierce independence in an increasingly state-controlled media environment, drawing the ire of Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a front page editorial ahead of the court hearing on Wednesday, the paper wrote: "Enough is enough with this cruelty." After the verdict, its website read: "You will be shamed in front of history."

Mr Erdogan has been accused of cracking down on press freedom in the country. In March, 25 journalists were jailed for alleged links to Mr Gulen.

This case caused outrage internationally, with human rights groups accusing the Turkish government of suppressing the media.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the convictions and called for all of those found guilty to be freed immediately.

"Turkish authorities must stop equating journalism with terrorism, and release the scores of press workers jailed for doing their job," CPJ Europe and Central Asia programme co-ordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement in March

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