Turkish court upholds prison sentences for staff members of Cumhuriyet daily

A regional appeals court in İstanbul on Tuesday upheld the prison sentences of 14 people including journalists, board members and media workers from the Cumhuriyet daily on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

According to the ruling, Kadri Gürsel, Bülent Utku, Musa Kart, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Hakan Kara, Önder Çelik, Güray Öz and Emre İper will be returned to prison to serve out their sentences. They cannot appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeals since their sentences are shorter than five years, thus rendering the regional court’s decision final.  

The Supreme Court of Appeals will decide on the cases of Ahmet Şık, Akın Atalay, Murat Sabuncu, Aydın Engin, Orhan Erinç and Hikmet Çetinkaya, who were handed down sentences longer than five years in duration.

The regional appeals court also ruled that Şık, who was elected as a deputy in the last general election on June 24, 2018, will not enjoy parliamentary immunity on the grounds that the time of the offense was prior to the election, making Şık criminally liable without the consent of the Turkish parliament.

The İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court on April 24, 2018 handed down sentences ranging from two-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half years to the Cumhuriyet staff members.

Journalist Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnist Aydın Engin were given seven years, six months, while Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay was sentenced to seven years, three months, 15 days. Publisher Orhan Erinç and columnist Hikmet Çetinkaya got six years, three months and editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel two years, six months. Three other Cumhuriyet employees, Önder Çelik, Hakan Kara, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, received three years, nine months in prison.

The staff of the newspaper was charged with supporting the Gülen movement. All the convicted defendants had been released pending appeal in April 2018.

An annual press freedom report released last week by the Council of Europe (CoE) titled “Democracy at Risk: Threats and Attacks Against Media Freedom in Europe,” argued that the Zaman Media Group, Cumhuriyet daily, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazlı Ilıcak trials illustrate the almost complete collapse of the rule of law in Turkey and highlight major concerns relating to the role of the judiciary and its independence. The report also underlined that journalists in Turkey continued to face extraordinary repression in 2018.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 231 journalists and media workers were in jail as February 19, 2019, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 158 were under arrest pending trial while only 73 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 152 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

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