The Cumhuriyet newspaper trial’s prosecutor requested sentences of up to 15 years in prison today for 13 of the newspaper’s journalists and managers. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the trial as a “sinister farce” and urges as many people as possible to turn out in support of the journalists at the next hearing, at which the court is expected to issue verdicts.
At today’s hearing, the prosecutor asked the court to convict 13 of the 18 defendants of “assisting a terrorist organization,” a charge that carries a maximum jail term of 15 years. They include well-known investigative reporter Ahmet Şık, editorial writer Kadri Gürsel, editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and managing director Akın Atalay.
Atalay’s provisional detention was extended today until the next hearing, to be held from 24 to 27 April. The only defendant not to have been released provisionally, he has already spent more than 500 days in prison. The court mentioned the possibility that he might try to flee although he returned to Turkey of his own volition and made himself available to judges when he learned that his colleagues had been arrested in October 2016.
“Like the rest of the trial that we have been observing for the past eight months, today’s summing-up by the prosecutor criminalizes journalism,” said Erol Önderoğlu, RSF’s Turkey representative.
“The heavy sentences requested by the prosecutor are based on a politicized and conspiracy-theorist interpretation of media work. More than ever, we demand the acquittal of Cumhuriyet’s journalists and managers, and we urge as many people as possible to come to the next hearing in a show of solidarity.”
The prosecutor also called for Cumhuriyet accountant Emre İper to be convicted of “terrorist propaganda” on the basis of his tweets, for the acquittal of three of the defendants (Turhan Günay, Günseli Özaltay and Bülent Yener), for the withdrawal of the “abuse of authority” charges against the newspaper’s managers, and for the cases against Can Dündar and İlhan Tanır, who are now living abroad, to be handled separately.
In recent years Cumhuriyet has published many stories that have embarrassed the authorities and it has become one of the spearheads of Turkey’s independent media, which are being subjected to more harassment than ever. Because of its role, it was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2015.
The judicial authorities accuse Cumhuriyet’s journalists and managers of carrying out a “radical change of editorial line” in order to support the goals of what are regarded in Turkey 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.
In fact, the ideologies of these three organizations could not be more disparate and all three were constantly criticized by the newspaper.
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.