Turkish court rules to release Cumhuriyet journalists Şık and Sabuncu

Journalists Ahmet Şık and Murat Sabuncu.

A Turkish court on Friday evening decided to release Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and journalist Ahmet Şık while ruling for a continuation of the imprisonment of the other defendants in the same trial, Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay and Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu.

Aydoğdu has been accused of having maintained popular Twitter account @Jeansbiri, which was affiliated with the Gülen movement. Şık and Sabuncu have been behind bars for around 500 days.

The sixth hearing of the trial of 17 Cumhuriyet executives, journalists and a Twitter phenomenon was held on Friday at the İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court during which the testimonies of several witnesses were heard.

The prosecutors’ 324-page indictment claims the Cumhuriyet daily was effectively taken over by the Gülen movement. The newspaper and the suspects have denied the accusation. The majority of evidence in the indictment comes from social media posts, along with allegations that staff members had been in contact with users of the ByLock mobile phone messaging application.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The charges the suspects face in the Cumhuriyet trial include “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it.” Several witnesses testified on Friday, and the suspects denied any links to the the Gülen movement.

Before the hearing started, a group that included main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Utku Çakırözer and Kani Beko, chairman of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), wanted to make a press statement outside the courthouse. However, gendarmes prevented it, basing their decision on a prohibition of open-air press conferences in İstanbul.

“We are here for the Cumhuriyet case, for press freedom and justice. This is fascism. We will oppose these kinds of acts in every situation. They are illegal. Our friends have been in prison for more than 500 days,” CHP deputy Tanrıkulu said.

The next hearing of the trial will be on March 16.

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 in 2016.

On Sept. 26, 2017 the court ruled for the release of Cumhuriyet daily journalist Kadri Gürsel.

Earlier, in July 2017, the court released Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Bülent Utku, Hakan Kara, Önder Çelik, Turhan Günay and Mustafa Kemal Güngör.

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 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 SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living 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. (SCF with turkishminute.com)

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