Turkey Cumhuriyet trial: 13 newspaper staff convicted over coup

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Protesters hold poster portraits of Cumhuriyet"s chairman Akin Atalayas they attend a demonstration at the courthouse in Istanbul on March 15, 2018.Image source, AFP

A Turkish court has sentenced 13 journalists to prison on terrorism charges, in a case that has sparked global outrage over press freedom.

The journalists were employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, which had taken a strong line against the Turkish government.

Three of the journalists on trial were acquitted. Those convicted remain free while an appeal is pending.

They were arrested during a crackdown after a failed coup in July 2016.

Turkish authorities have accused Cumhuriyet's staff of supporting groups it has labelled terror organisations, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front, and the cleric Fetullah Gulen, who Ankara accuses of masterminding the failed coup.

Mr Gulen is living in self-imposed exile in the US, where authorities have refused to extradite him to Turkey.

More than 50,000 people were arrested and 150,000 sacked or suspended from their jobs in the aftermath of the attempted coup, including journalists, police, military personnel, teachers and public servants.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Turkey's prosecution of journalists has caused international outrage

The 13 journalists and executives convicted on Wednesday include some of the country's most prominent commentators, such as editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, cartoonist Musa Kart and columnist Kadri Gursel.

The paper's chairman, Akin Atalay was sentenced to seven years in prison, after already serving 500 days.

Founded in 1924, Cumhuriyet had maintained fierce independence in an increasingly state-controlled media environment, drawing the ire of Turkey's President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In a front page editorial ahead of the court hearing on Wednesday, the paper wrote: "Enough is enough with this cruelty." After the verdict, its website read: "You will be shamed in front of history."

Mr Erdogan has been accused of cracking down on press freedom in the country. In March, 25 journalists were jailed for alleged links to Mr Gulen.

This case caused outrage internationally, with human rights groups accusing the Turkish government of suppressing the media.

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 in March