Turkish court decides continuation of journalists’ imprisonments in Cumhuriyet daily case

An İstanbul court ordered on Tuesday for the continuation of imprisonments of Cumhuriyet daily’s jailed journalists Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık, the newspaper’s CEO Akın Atalay, and two more defendants.

The 4th hearing in the case into daily Cumhuriyet was held at the İstanbul’s 27th High Criminal Court at the notorious Çağlayan courthouse and 20 defendants have been tried on terror charges. Five jailed defendants, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Barış Yarkadaş and Ali Şeker, and representatives from national and international press organizations attended the hearing at the Istanbul 27th high criminal court at the Çağlayan courthouse.

The prosecutor demanded the continuation of arrest for the five arrested defendants, including Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, journalist Ahmet Şık and CEO Akın Atalay. The court also ordered an interview published on a news website with former Cumhuriyet columnist Doğan Satmış to be included in the case as evidence.

Digital forensic engineer Tuncay Beşikçi was also heard by the court as a witness to testify about the ByLock application, which was found in the cellphone of defendant Yunus Emre Kiper. Beşikçi said the phone had been directed to the ByLock server through a music application.

Meanwhile, according to report by Hurriyet daily news the WhatsApp conversations between former Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and businessman Osman Kavala, who was recently detained by police in İstanbul, were also included in the case file. The court later ordered them to remain in prison. The hearing was adjourned until Dec. 25 and Dec. 26.

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 2017 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. Meanwhile, 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.

Cumhuriyet executives and journalists are being tried on several charges, including “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it.”

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the SCF has showed that 256 journalists and media workers are in jails as of October 30, 2017, most in pre-trial detention languishing in notorious Turkish prisons without even a conviction. Of those in Turkish prisons, 232 are arrested pending trial, only 24 journalists remain convicted and serving time in Turkish prisons. An outstanding detention warrants remain for 133 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.

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