Reporters Without Borders condemns Turkish gov’t over trial of 29 journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has reiterated its condemnation of the politically-motivated trial of 29 journalists and media workers that resumed on Thursday in İstanbul and is expected to end on Friday. “Many of the journalists could get long jail terms. Twenty-one of them have already been held for the past 18 months,” said RSF in a written statement.

“The trial’s imminent conclusion comes in the wake of the life sentences that three well known journalists, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak, received last week for allegedly abetting the July 2016 coup attempt that the government blames on the once influential Gülen movement,” said the statement.

Defendants Ali Akkuş, Abdullah Kılıç, Bayram Kaya, Bünyamin Köseli, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Cihan Acar, Emre Soncan, Habip Güler, Halil İbrahim Balta, Hanım Büşra Erdal, Hüseyin Aydın, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Seyid Kılıç, Ufuk Şanlı, Yakup Çetin, Cuma Uluş, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Ahmet Memiş, Davut Aydın, Muhammet Sait Kuloğlu, Oğuz Usluer, Atilla Taş and Yetkin Yıldız have started to give their last defences on Thursday before an İstanbul courtç

“Because the defendants in this trial worked for media outlets that supposedly supported the Gülen movement, they are alleged to have constituted its ‘media wing,'” reminded RSF and added that “On February 6, the prosecutor requested 15-year jail terms for 23 of the defendants for ‘membership of a terrorist organisation.’ He also requested prison for Murat Aksoy, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu and Muhterem Tanık for ‘supporting a terrorist organisation,’ the withdrawal of the proceedings against Hüseyin Aydın and a separate trial for two defendants who are on the run, Said Sefa and Bülent Ceyhan.”

Emphasised that the prosecution’s case has focused on the defendants’ journalistic activities and political views, and above all on the fact that they worked for media outlets such as Zaman, Meydan, Nokta, Bugün TVand Haberdar, which it has portrayed as Gülen mouthpieces, RSF statement has continued to say that “Although the prosecutor recognized that Aksoy and Çulhaoğlu have ‘no link with the illegal organization and its ideology,’ he nonetheless accused them of ‘legitimizing the actions of the organization,’ of ‘presenting it as a victim’ and of ‘discrediting the justice system’ by criticizing police raids on Zaman and other pro-Gülen entities since 2014.”

According to the RSF statement, at the same time, the prosecutor has requested the withdrawal of the charge of “trying to overthrow the government and constitutional order” against 13 of these journalists – an extremely serious charge that was added in March 2017 solely to ensure that they remained in detention after a court ordered their conditional release. The three judges who ordered their release were suspended a few days later.

“The Turkish courts are again being used to execute an act of political revenge,” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “We again demand the immediate release of all journalists held without proof of direct and individual involvement in violent acts. This trial highlights the urgent need to reform Turkey’s terrorism law and to lift the state of emergency, which are being used to silence critics.”

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 240 journalists and media workers are in jails as of February 22, 2018, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 205 are arrested pending trial, only 35 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 140 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

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