07/25/2017, 15.42
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Trial under way against the staff of independent daily Cumhuriyet

Seventeen writers, cartoonists and executives risk years of imprisonment if found guilty of supporting terrorist organisations. For their supporters, the charges are unfounded. The newspaper has been a thorn in the side of Erdoğan in recent years.

Ankara (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The trial of the 17 staff members of the Cumhuriyet daily began yesterday in an Istanbul courthouse.

The defendants include writers, cartoonists and executives who are accused of supporting "terrorist" groups against Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdoğan. If convicted, they face terms varying between 7 and 43 years in prison.

Arrested last October, 11 of them have spent more than eight months in jail. They are all charged with supporting three groups deemed terrorist by Turkey with their articles, namely the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and Gülen’s movement, which Turkish authorities call the Gülenist Terror Organisation (Fethullahçı Terör Örgütü, FETÖ).

According to the charge, Cumhuriyet is guilty of launching "a perception operation" with the aim of starting an "asymmetric war" against Erdoğan. Supporters insist the paper has always been bitterly critical of the three groups.

Those appearing in court included some of the best-known names in Turkish journalism, like columnist Kadri Gursel, the paper's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, cartoonist Musa Kart as well as its chairman Akin Atalay.

As they entered the courthouse, supporters applauded, and released dozens of multicolored balloons, chanting: "Don't be silenced! A free media is a right!"

During the hearing, the accused defended themselves. “I find myself here before you, not because, while not being a member of a terrorist organisation, I knowingly and willingly aided a terrorist organisation, but because I am an independent, investigative and critical journalist,” Gursel said.

Atalay said the authorities were scared. "But Cumhuriyet will not give in... independence and liberty are written into the DNA of the paper."

Since the arrests, the paper has continued to publish the columns of the detained journalists with a blank space instead of the text.

Cumhuriyet (Republic) was created in 1924 and is Turkey's oldest mainstream national title. It has been a thorn in the side of Erdoğan in recent years.

It is one of the few genuine opposition voices in the press, which is dominated by strongly pro-government media.

One year after the failed coup, Turkey is still under a state of emergency and President Erdoğan's repression against all opposition continues.

With respect to press freedom, Turkey ranks 155th on the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) world press freedom index, below Belarus and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, in an opinion released last month, said it found that the detention of the staff was arbitrary and that they should be immediately released and given the right to compensation.

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