Turkish court releases only journalist Gürsel in Cumhuriyet case

An İstanbul court on Monday ordered for the release of journalist Kadri Grürsel pending trial, all other imprisoned journalists and executives ordered to remain behind bars in the case of Cumhuriyet daily. The court has also decided to hold the next hearing on October 31, 2017.

The third hearing in trial of 20 executives and journalists from Turkey’s daily Cumhuriyet, including the newspaper’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, reporter Ahmet Şık, columnist Kadri Gürsel and cartoonist Musa Kart, has resumed on Monday at İstanbul’s Çağlayan courthouse.

More than 20 main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies, including CHP Deputy Group Chair Engin Altay, and Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) deputies Garo Paylan and Celal Doğan were also in attendance at the trial. During the hearing the former deputy chairman of the Cumhuriyet Foundation, Alev Coşkun, spoke in defense of the defendants.

At the last hearing on September 11, the court in its interlocutory ruling ordered the continuation of arrest of the Sabuncu, Şık, Gürsel, Akın Atalay, Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu and Yusuf Emre İper until more evidence was presented.

All defendants in the case, which has been crticicized by domestic and international media freedom groups, are being tried on terror charges.

The decision on Gürsel was taken with a majority of judges’ votes, while the ruling for the other five arrested journalists was taken unanimously. One of the judges had expressed his opinion in favor of the release of Gürsel.

“The court has decided to keep them arrested until more witnesses are heard,” chief judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dağ had said after a 13-hour session at the court near İstanbul’s  infamous Silivri Prison.

The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in an April 2017 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 Emre İper. Arrest warrants for Cumhuriyet’s former-editor-in-chief Can Dündar and US-based journalist İlhan Tanır are still outstanding.

The suspects were arrested by the İstanbul 9th Penal Court of Peace on November 5, 2016. Atalay was detained at İstanbul Atatürk Airport upon his return from Germany and subsequently arrested on November 12, 2016. Cumhuriyet reporter Şık was also detained on December 22 and arrested on December 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 282 journalists and media workers are now in jails as of September 23, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 257 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 Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt on July 15, 2016. Turkey’s Contemporary Journalists’ Association (ÇGD) recently announced that more than 900 press cards were cancelled.

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