Turkey: “Acquit Cumhuriyet, acquit journalism!”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for the acquittal of the 18 Cumhuriyet newspaper journalists and administrators whose trial resumed today in Silivri high security prison and is due to conclude this week. RSF submitted an amicus brief to the court today.

More than 18 months after police raided Cumhuriyet’s Istanbul headquarters in October 2016, the court is finally expected to reach a verdict during this week’s hearing. Thirteen of the defendants are facing the possibility of 15 years in prison on a charge of “assisting a terrorist organization.”

One of the defendants, Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay, has been held for more than 500 days. Ten of his co-defendants, including investigative reporter Ahmet Şık, columnist Kadri Gürsel and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, spent many months in prison before being released conditionally.

The amicus brief that RSF submitted to the court today – written by French lawyers William Bourdon, Amélie Lefebvre, Jessica Lescs and Guillaume Sauvage – demonstrates that the defendants’ rights to free speech and to a fair trial have been violated, in contravention of both Turkish law and the European Convention on Human Rights.

RSF’s Turkey representative, Erol Önderoğlu, will begin attending this week’s hearings on 26 April.

“Acquit Cumhuriyet’s staff and at the same time acquit journalism!” said Johann Bihr, the head of RSF’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk. “Throughout this trial, we have seen the prosecution develop a Kafkaesque conspiracy theory based on the criminalization of journalism. Eleven journalists and administrators have languished in prison for no reason, and have been treated as terrorists just for doing their job. It is high time to end this farce.”

The indictment claims that Cumhuriyet’s journalists and administrators effected a “radical editorial change” in 2015 and thereafter supported the goals of three organizations labelled as “terrorist” by the Turkish authorities: the movement led by the US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the small, far-left group DHKP/C.

In fact, Cumhuriyet has always criticized these three movements, whose ideologies are very different. The prosecution has nonetheless based its case above all on the newspaper’s articles, its contacts with sources, its business relationships and the activities of its board – all of which have been taken out of context and interpreted in a partial manner.

In recent years, Cumhuriyet has published a series of revelations that were embarrassing for the authorities and has become the spearhead of an independent press that is now under more pressure than ever. It was awarded the RSF Press Freedom Prize in 2015.

The already worrying media situation in Turkey has become critical under the state of emergency that was proclaimed after a failed coup attempt in July 2016. Around 150 media outlets have been closed, mass trials are being held, and more than 100 journalists are currently in prison, a world record.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 24.04.2018