Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the sentences ranging from two to seven years in prison that 25 Turkish journalists received on 8 March in a political mass trial in Istanbul targeting opposition journalists. Only one of the 26 journalists on trial was acquitted.
The sentences were issued late yesterday after the 25 journalists were convicted of supporting or being members of the movement led by US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen, regarded by the Turkish government as a “terrorist organization” and blamed for an attempted coup in July 2016.
“We condemn these sentences as an act of political despotism, not an act of justice,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “After this trial, we must conclude that no vestige of the rule of law remains in Turkey. Once again, we call for the immediate release of all journalists convicted arbitrarily.”
Nine of the journalists – Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Orhan Kuloğlu, Mustafa Erkan Acar, Oguz Usluer, Davut Aydın, Ufuk Şanlı, Yetkin Yıldız and Cuma Ulus – were sentenced to seven years and three months in prison on a charge of “membership of a terrorist organization.”
Fourteen other journalists were sentenced to six years and three months in prison on the same charge. They were Cihan Acar, Bünyamin Köseli, İbrahim Balta, Bayram Kaya, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Habip Güler, Büşra Erdal, Mutlu Çölgeçen, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin, Seyid Kılıç, Hüseyin Aydın, Abdullah Kılıç and Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu.
Atilla Tas, a columnist for the Meydan daily newspaper, was sentenced to three years, one month and 15 days in prison for “support for a terrorist organization without being a member,” while the journalist Murat Aksoy was sentenced to two years and one month in prison on the same charge.
The court ordered the immediate arrest of Ali Akkuş, the former editor of the Zaman daily newspaper, to begin serving his sentence. Akkus was granted a conditional release during the trial. Most of the other journalists spent more than 18 months in provisional detention pending the trial’s outcome. The only journalist to be acquitted was Muhterem Tanik.
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 the July 2016 coup attempt. 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.