March 8, 2018 - Updated on March 12, 2018

As Cumhuriyet trial resumes, RSF says journalists must be freed now

Credit: Bulent Kilic / AFP

(Update 12.03.2018): At the end of the hearing on 9 March, the court ordered the conditional release of Cumhuriyet editor Murat Sabuncu and investigative reporter Ahmet Sik. However, Akin Atalay is still detained. The next hearing will be held on 16 March.

08.03.2018 - As the Turkish authorities prepare to resume the emblematic Cumhuriyet newspaper trial tomorrow in Istanbul, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) again urges them to drop all proceedings against journalists in Turkey who are being prosecuted for political reasons.

RSF’s Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, and the head of its German section, Christian Mihr, will be at the Istanbul law courts tomorrow to follow the trial, which has become an emblem of press freedom violations in Turkey, and to express their solidarity with the 18 Cumhuriyet journalists and administrators on trial.

Most of the defendants have been released conditionally in the course of the trial but three – well-known reporter Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet publisher Mehmet Murat Sabuncu and Cumhuriyet Foundation executive board president Akin Atalay – are still in prison and have been there for more than a year.

“The previous hearings have clearly exposed the completely baseless nature of these spurious proceedings,” RSF said. “It is with the utmost firmness that we reiterate our call for the immediate release of the journalists still held and for the charges to be dropped against all of the defendants in this trial.”

The Cumhuriyet journalists and administrators on trial are facing sentences ranging from seven and a half to 43 years in prison for criticizing the Turkish authorities and for supposedly defending what the government regards as three “terrorist” organizations: the movement led by the Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and a small far-left group known as the DHKP/C.

The ideologies of these three organizations could not be more disparate and all three were constantly criticized by the newspaper. The indictment is riddled with factual errors and is based above all on misinterpreted newspaper articles and insignificant meetings between journalists and sources or partners.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index. The already worrying media situation has become critical under the state of emergency proclaimed after a coup attempt in July 2016. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held and the country now holds the world record for the number of professional journalists detained.