The prison sentences of nine journalists from Turkey’s pro-opposition Sözcü daily who were charged with supporting the Gülen movement have been upheld by the İstanbul Regional Appeals Court, according to Turkish Media.
The İstanbul 37th High Criminal Court had sentenced columnists Emin Çölaşan and Necati Doğru to three years, six months; executive editor Metin Yılmaz and Internet editor Mustafa Çetin to three years, four months; and news coordinator Yücel Arı, correspondent Gökmen Ulu and accountant Yonca Yücekaleli to one year, 13 months each for “aiding a terrorist organization without holding membership in it.”
The accusations are based on reports published by the newspaper raising concerns about human rights violations that people accused of membership in the Gülen movement have been subjected to.
The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, a faith-based group inspired by Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a coup attempt in July 2016 and labels it a terrorist organization. The movement strongly denies involvement in the coup attempt or any terrorist activity.
Çölaşan and Doğru wrote several columns that included letters from Turkish prisoners who were jailed for alleged membership in the Gülen movement, detailing their ordeals.
Lawyer for the newspaper İsmail Yılmaz said the sentences were a gross miscarriage of justice, adding: “The evidence was not sufficient to charge my clients. The expert report was not prepared by an expert and the witness testimonies did not point to any wrongdoing on the part of my clients.”
İstanbul Bar Association President Mehmet Durakoğlu said the court’s decision was an act of oppressing the free press. “In the recent years we have witnessed a profound increase in the prosecution of journalists. This is not only an attack on independent journalism but also on freedom of expression,” he said.
He added that this was a sign of increasing authoritarianism. “I believe these sentences represent an overall threat to journalism. We cannot allow this kind of authoritarianism,” he said.
Turkey was ranked 154th of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters without Borders (RSF). In May, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Representative on Freedom of the Media Harlem Désir called on the Turkish authorities to urgently address and reverse current media freedom violations and the pressure journalists face.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 176 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.
Following the coup attempt, the Turkish government declared a state of emergency and launched a massive crackdown on followers of the Gülen movement under the pretext of an anti-coup fight. Over 540,000 people were detained on terrorism-related charges, more than 80,000 were arrested or imprisoned and over 150,000 public servants were summarily removed from their jobs for alleged membership in or relationships with “terrorist organizations.” The purge mainly targeted people who were allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement but included other people from a wide variety of backgrounds as well.