Former staff of the mass-circulation Cumhuriyet daily, including journalists and executives, started going back to prison on Thursday, after their appeals against their terrorism convictions were dismissed by a Turkish appeals court.
The appeal court, the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice 3rd Criminal Office, upheld the convictions of the Cumhuriyet employees on February 19, making those, who were given less than five years, serve their sentences, while others receiving longer sentences are expected to lodge appeals before a higher court, the Turkish Supreme Court of Appeals (Yargitay).
According to Turkish law, those sentenced to more than five years in prison can apply to the Yargitay, while those with less than five-year sentences cannot appeal the sentence.
Six former Cumhuriyet staff – Musa Kart, Mustafa Kemal Gungor, Emre Iper, Hakan Kara, Onder Celik, and Guray Oz – went to the courthouse in Kocaeli province on Thursday for the official procedures of their convictions.
In solidarity with the former Cumhuriyet staff, Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a human rights lawyer and activist, and Baris Atay, a lawmaker from Turkish Workers Party (TIP) participated in the group.
They conducted a press release in front of the courthouse before being sent to the Kanlica Prison to serve the remainder of their sentences.
CHP’s Tanrikulu claimed during the conference that the Cumhuriyet lawsuit had been opened by the instructions of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“And now, [the Turkish judiciary] has upheld the convictions without allowing to appeal before the Yargitay. You can be sure that those cases will be rejected by the Constitutional Court (AYM) and the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR),” said Tanrikulu.
Cartoonist Musa Kart posted a tweet titled “at the prison gate” before he was put behind bars on Thursday.
“I do believe that our case will be still on trial at the heart of the public. Some kindhearted and sensitive people have defined [well] what we have [lately] experienced, saying, – the attacker [to an opposition party leader] is free, [while] cartoonists and journalists are in jail – Goodbye, hoping to meet on days when journalists do not have to make statements at the prison gates,” said Kart, referring to the Sunday’s attack to the CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu by a member of the ruling party, who has since been released.
In April 2018, fourteen Cumhuriyet staff were handed multiple prison sentences for “aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member.”
They were accused of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Turkey-designated Kurdish terrorist organization, and the Gulen Movement, led by self-exiled US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen whose followers are blamed by Erdogan for plotting a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
All defendants were held in pre-trial detention and were later released at different stages of the trial.
Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and journalists Ahmet Sik, Hikmet Cetinkaya, Orhan Erinc, Akin Atalay and Aydin Engin will remain on bail pending their appeals to the Yargıtay, as they have been sentenced to more than five years in jail.
Journalist Kadri Gursel and lawyer Bulent Utku will not go back to prison due to the time they have already served.
Founded in 1924, the oldest daily in Turkey, Cumhuriyet daily was one of the few remaining critical voices against the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government, as it was not owned by business interests, but by an independent foundation, unlike many other Turkish dailies.
After the convictions last year, the daily has experienced management changes, causing the resignations of several journalists in protest of the changes.
The Cumhuriyet daily has often had troubles with the Erdogan regime. This is not the first instance of Cumhuriyet staff to being jailed. Can Dundar, former editor-in-chief, had to flee to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article, reporting Turkey had provided Islamist groups in Syria with weapons.
Turkey ranks 157th out of 180 countries, as in 2018, according to 2019 World Press Freedom Index released on Thursday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), with having the highest number of journalists in prisons amid an increasing state crackdown on critical media.
According to the figures released by Turkey Purge, the number of journalists arrested in Turkey has reached 319 since the failed coup in 2016. Turkey has closed 189 media and publishing outlets in total so far.
According to the International Media Institute (IPI), nearly 95 percent of the Turkish media is now in the hands of pro-government groups, after the acquisition of Dogan Media group last year by Demiroren group.