Prison sentences that were handed down to staff members of the critical Cumhuriyet daily last year were upheld by a higher court of appeal on Tuesday.
This case paves the way to further scrutiny by rights groups deeming Turkey’s press not free.
Fourteen Cumhuriyet staff members, including journalists and executive members of staff, were jailed last year on charges of terrorism, namely supporting the Gulen Movement that was blamed, by Turkish authorities, for the attempted coup in 2016. The staff denied all the charges.
According to Turkey’s law of criminal procedure, which states that prison sentences under five years may not be appealed again, journalists Hakan Kara and Guray Oz, cartoonist Musa Kart, lawyer Mustafa Kemal Gungor, board member Onder Celik, and accountant Emre Iper will have to complete their given terms.
Chief Editor Murat Sabuncu, prominent journalists Ahmet Sik, Hikmet Cetinkaya, Orhan Erinc, Akin Atalay and Aydin Engin, will have to spend time in jail pending their appeals to the Turkish High Court.
Journalist Kadri Gursel and lawyer Bulent Utku will not go back to prison due to time already served.
Several reactions were posted on social media shortly after the ruling. Cartoonist Kart tweeted: “The government, which is expected to produce solutions for the crises that we are going through, has spoken: lock the cartoonist up again! Yes, time for me to get going. Take care of yourselves…”
“The court of appeals upheld the verdict for Cumhuriyet’s writers and executives. You know, I am among them. Fortunately, I have done the last proofreading for my novel. We will not be able to meet for a while. Goodbye…” wrote columnist Guray Oz.
Peoples’ Democratic Party, HDP MP and a former reporter of the Cumhuriyet, Ahmet Sik reacted on Twitter by posting a quote from French thinker Voltaire: “We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them kneeling down to contemptible rascals.”
Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International’s Turkey Strategy and Research Manager, denounced the sentences handed down on Tuesday. “Today’s ruling to send the former Cumhuriyet staff back to prison exposes yet again the way in which politically motivated trials and unsound court decisions are simply rubber-stamped by an equally biased appeals process,” he said.
According to the December 2018 report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Turkey is by far the leading jailer of journalists in the world. Turkey also ranks 157th out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.