Turkish court rules for continuation of pretrial detention of 5 Cumhuriyet journalists

An İstanbul court on Monday evening ruled for continuation of pretrial detention for five Cumhuriyet daily journalists following a public prosecutor demanded their pretrial detention be continued.

According to the decision of İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court, during the hearing on Monday, held at a specially designed courtroom in infamous Silivri Prison, five Cumhuriyet journalists — Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Şık and Kemal Aydoğdu — will remain in pretrial detention until the next hearing on Sept. 25.

The second hearing in the trial of Cumhuriyet daily journalists and executives who were arrested in November 2016 on terror charges was took place on Monday. Seven journalists were released during the first hearing in July by an İstanbul court, which continued the pretrial detention of five others.

Christophe Deloire, the secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said on Monday that the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists on charges of sponsoring terrorist organizations is a mockery of justice.

Speaking to The Associated Press outside İstanbul’s Silivri Prison, where five Cumhuriyet journalists — Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Şık and Kemal Aydoğdu – are being held, Deloire criticized the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan for suppressing pluralism and a free press in the country.

“[Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan succeeded in suppressing pluralism and free press in this country. There are only a few remaining free media and we have to defend them,” he said.

In the first defense, Cumhuriyet employee Yusuf Emre İper denied allegations that he had used mobile phone messaging application ByLock, adding that a technical report previously stated that there was no trace of the use of the application.

“I am certain that I do not have such a program on my phone. I believe that everything will be revealed after a thorough examination. There should certainly have been traces on my phone if I had used ByLock and deleted it,” İper said.

He also refuted any support for last year’s failed coup attempt which had been cited based on his tweets, stressing that he was not even an active social media user. Denying any connection with the Gülen movement, İper demanded his release.

The court later asked witnesses questions about the operation of the daily, news reports, personnel employment and the impact of the Cumhuriyet Association. Witness İbrahim Yıldız said he did not say the daily was “managed in a bad way,” claiming that it was the opinion of the journalist who had interviewed him.

Another witness, Aykut Küçükkaya, meanwhile said the former editor-in-chief of the daily, Can Dündar, worked with his own team at his time and it was normal in terms of journalism.

Businessman and a former member of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, İnan Kıraç stated that he had quit reading the paper due to a divergence in its path from the time of former editor-in-chief İlhan Selçuk and investigative journalist Uğur Mumcu, rather than pointing to “any connection with terror organizations.”

During the second period of the hearing, journalist Kadri Gürsel noted that ByLock users had halted their one-sided communication with him before he started to work for Cumhuriyet but that the interim decision contradicted with this fact.

“The fact that I am jailed here is that I am an interrogative, critical, independent and an opposition journalist,” he said, claiming  that ByLock users and members of the Gülen network targeted him because he defended press freedom and freedom of expression.

“My only demand is a fair trial. My conscience is clean no matter what decision emerges here, and I know that I will be released if there is even the slightest of justice, at a period when justice is downtrodden,” Gürsel said.

The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in an April indictment accuse them of aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and the Gülen movement, which is accused by Turkish authorities of being behind a failed coup last year.

The court in July released Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Bülent Utku, Hakan Kara, Önder Çelik, Turhan Günay and Mustafa Kemal Güngör and continued the pretrial detention of Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Kadri Gürsel, Ahmet Şık and Kemal Aydoğdu.

Arrest warrants for Cumhuriyet’s former-editor-in-chief Can Dündar and journalist İlhan Tanır are still outstanding.

The suspects were arrested by the İstanbul 9th Penal Court of Peace on Nov. 5, 2016. Atalay was detained at İstanbul Atatürk Airport upon his return from Germany and subsequently arrested on Nov. 12, 2016.

Cumhuriyet reporter Şık was also detained on Dec. 22 and arrested on Dec. 30, 2016 on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) has showed that 283 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of August 18, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 258 are arrested pending trial, only 25 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 135 journalists who live in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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