Trial of Turkey opposition daily staff resumes

 31 Oct 2017 - 12:41

Trial of Turkey opposition daily staff resumes

AFP

Istanbul, The controversial trial resumed Tuesday of staff from Turkey's main opposition daily on terror-related charges, in a case seen as a test for media freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Prosecutors accuse 17 current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from Cumhuriyet ("Republic") of supporting terror groups, charges lambasted by the defence as absurd.

Four of the suspects remain behind bars, with the others now free but still on trial and risking heavy jail sentences if convicted.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the court in Istanbul, unfurling banners saying: "Stop hunting the opposition and arresting journalists" and "justice for Cumhuriyet".

The 17 are charged with supporting through their coverage three groups Turkey views as terror groups -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of preacher Fethullah Gulen blamed by Ankara for last year's failed coup.

The defendants risk up to 43 years in prison if convicted.

The court in July freed seven of the daily's staff after 271 days behind bars, including respected cartoonist Musa Kart and Turhan Gunay, editor of the books supplement.

And one of Turkey's most respected journalists Kadri Gursel was released last month after spending nearly a year in jail.

Those remaining under arrest include the paper's chairman Akin Atalay and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, who have been held for 366 days.

- 170 journalists behind bars -

Investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, who has been held for 305 days, as well as accountant Emre Iper, detained for 208 days, also remain under arrest.

Sik wrote a book exposing the past ties of members of the Turkish elite to the Gulen movement.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 170 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested after the coup bid. Turkey ranks 155 out of 180 on the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world press freedom index.

Since last July's coup bid, over 50,000 people have been arrested during the state of emergency over alleged Gulen links but opposition media and pro-Kurdish activists have also been caught up in the crackdown. Gulen denies any links to the coup bid.

The trial also resumed Tuesday of celebrated Turkish novelist Asli Erdogan in which she is accused of "terror propaganda" for the PKK on account of her work to the now shut down pro-Kurdish newspaper Ozgur Gundem.

Erdogan -- no relation of the president -- faces life in prison if convicted but was released from pre-trial detention in December last year. She is not expected to attend the hearing.