A Turkish court in Silivri sentenced 14 journalists from one of the last independent newspapers in Turkey, Cumhuriyet, with jail time on terrorism charges. The staff from this paper, known for being highly critical of President Erdogan’s administration, were found guilty of supporting Turkish exile Fethullah Gulen, who has been accused by Erdogan of leading the attempted coup in 2016. These accusations have been denied by Gulen but the Cumhuriyet journalists may face up to eight years for allegedly supporting him.
In addition to supposedly aiding Gulen, the journalists were convicted of providing coverage of Kurdistan Workers’ party and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.
— CPJ (@pressfreedom) April 29, 2018
Well-known journalists were among those convicted, including the Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and investigative journalist Ahmet Sik. Sik is also known for being an open critic of Gulen and his movement.
Both journalists were released on bail in March after spending over a year in pre-trial prison. The chairman of Cumhuriyet, Akin Atalay, was also released after being jailed for over 500 days.
Sabuncu was sentenced to seven years and nine months while reporter Kadri Gursel will serve two years and six months. Cartoonist Musa Kart was given three years and nine months behind bars.
“No penalty can stop us from doing journalism. If needed, we will go to the prison again but we will continue to do journalism,” Sabuncu told AFP.
Atalay echoed Sabuncu’s defiance, stating that Cumhuriyet, which translates to “republic,” cannot be intimidated and “will continue to tell the truth to its readers.”
— ICFJ (@ICFJ) October 12, 2017
The rest of the journalists, excluding one, will be able to live free lives until the pending appeal. Three of the staff, including editor Turhan Gunay, were acquitted while two others will have a separate trial.
In anticipation of the court hearing that would decide the futures of these 14 journalists, Cumhuriyet’s front page headline on Wednesday read, “Enough is enough with this cruelty.” Once the journalists were sentenced to various spans of prison time, the website read: “You will be shamed in front of history.”
The charges against the Cumhuriyet staff come as the presidential election in Turkey crawls closer. Since the coup in 2016, President Erdogan has cracked down on press freedom in his country, imprisoning over 150 reporters and shutting down over 180 media outlets and publishing groups. In the face of this heightened threat to journalism, Cumhuriyet kept scrutinizing Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party.
Last year, President Erdogan held a referendum which granted him more power after the upcoming elections. Erdogan will be able to prepare the budget, appoint high-level officials, declare a state of emergency, and potentially dissolve parliament. He will also be able to extend his administration past the lawful term limit.
— AKP Watch (@AKP_Watch) April 23, 2018
Multiple human rights and press freedom advocacy organizations have expressed their concern for Turkey’s tactics against journalists.
“These politically motivated sentences are clearly intended to instill fear and silence any form of dissent,” said Milena Buyum, Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner.
CPJ Europe and Central Asia programme coordinator Nina Ognianova said, “Turkish authorities must stop equating journalism with terrorism, and release the scores of press workers jailed for doing their job.”