Turkey sentences 25 journalists to jail for 'coup links'

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Activists say the media has been particularly hard hit by Turkey's post-coup crackdown

A Turkish court has sentenced 25 journalists to jail for alleged links to a group the government blames for a failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Twenty-three of them were convicted of membership of an armed terrorist organisation and were given prison terms of up to seven and a half years.

Two were convicted on lesser charges.

They mainly worked for outlets close to the group of US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara accuses him of heading the coup bid, which he denies.

More than 50,000 people were arrested and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of the failed coup on 15 July 2016. Police, military personnel, teachers and public servants were among those ensnared in the crackdown.

In the most recent trial, prominent journalist Murat Aksoy and pop singer and columnist Atilla Tas were given jail sentences of 25 and 37 months respectively, on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation without being a member.

Both were allowed to go free because of the time they had already spent in jail.

Many of those convicted worked for a prominent newspaper, Zaman, which authorities took control of in 2016.

On Twitter (in Turkish), Murat Aksoy responded to the ruling, saying: "My writings may have been critical but don't deserve to be punished. I also don't deserve to be punished, just for being a journalist."

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemned the convictions and called for all of those found guilty to be freed immediately.

"Turkish authorities must stop equating journalism with terrorism, and release the scores of press workers jailed for doing their job," CPJ Europe and Central Asia programme co-ordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

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The trial of Cumhuriyet journalists is being closely watched in Turkey

Meanwhile, the trial of 17 current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from the Cumhuriyet newspaper was set to resume on Friday. They face charges of aiding a terrorist organisation.

Press freedom groups say media has been particularly hard hit in the post-coup crackdown led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan following the coup attempt. The mutiny led by military officers resulted in the deaths of 250 civilian protesters.

The Turkish government says Gulen's influence must be purged from Turkish society.

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