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Middle East

Jailed Turkish journalists are still awaiting indictment

Three months have passed since the imprisonment of the editor and senior staff of the opposition "Cumhuriyet"newspaper. While they remain in detention without being indicted, the newspaper is struggling to survive.

"Cumhuriyet" executives and journalists accused of "carrying out activities on behalf of FETO and the PKK" have been in prison for the past three months without charge. Bülent Özdogan, acting editor-in-chief of "Cumhuriyet," said that the wait for an indictment had "turned the detention into an actual prison sentence."

"Cumhuriyet" is Turkey's oldest newspaper. Its entire staff are keenly waiting for official charges to be laid, because they believe that once the trial begins, their friends will be set free due to lack of evidence.

"My father worked here for 25 years; I've been here for 30 years. None of us are a part of FETO; we never have been," a member of staff, who wished to remain anonymous, told DW.

Türkei Cumhuriyet Sitzung der Redaktion in Istanbul (DW/K. Akyol)

The newspaper is struggling to survive

The government in Ankara blames the supporters of US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen - which it refers to as the Gülenist Terror Organisation (FETO) - for the failed coup attempt in July.

And the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a three-decade insurgency for Kurdish autonomy, is considered a terrorist group by Turkey. 

Concerted campaign

The manager of the newspaper, Orhan Erinc, and senior writer Aydin Engin also stand accused of aiding the Gülen movement and the PKK. The fact that they are both over 70 is the only thing that has prevented them being imprisoned, too.

According to Bülent Özdogan, the pressure exerted on "Cumhuriyet" predates the July 15 coup attempt.

Türkei Bülent Özdogan Chefredaktuer der Cumhuriyet (DW/K. Akyol)

Özdogan says "Cumhuriyet" has long been under pressure

He told DW about the time when Can Dundar, who was named editor-in-chief at the beginning of 2015, and Ankara representative Erdem Gül were tried for reporting on the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) sending weapons to Syrian Islamist fighters by the truckload. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had claimed that this report was an act of spying and said that Dundar would pay. Dundar and Gül were arrested a month later. After being imprisoned for three months, Dundar escaped unharmed from an armed assault while the trial was in recess. When the court reconvened, Dundar was sentenced to five years and 10 days in prison, while Gül received five years. The possibility of an appeal was kept open.

After this assault, "Cumhuriyet"'s former editor-in-chief moved to Germany. This created a diplomatic strain between Ankara and Berlin. It is expected to be a topic again when German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits Turkey this week.

Circulation falling

The events have taken their financial toll on the newspaper over the past two years. Hundreds of readers held a recent vigil in front of the newspaper building, but circulation numbers have plummeted. According to Özdogan, the government's scare tactics have had an effect on the readers.

Marketing Director Ayse Cemal also blamed dire economic conditions in Turkey that have impacted the advertising sector, and the fact that "Cumhuriyet," already Turkey's most expensive newspaper, wanted to increase its price by a third. It also launched a new ad campaign, calling on overseas readers to buy the e-newspaper.

Türkei Ayse Cemal Marketing-Managerin der Cumhuriyet (DW/K. Akyol)

Cemal says advertising is down because of Turkey's ailing economy

'Standing tall'

But the biggest challenge is editorial. Last week, Canan Coskun, one of the newspaper's young reporters, was fined for a report that claimed some members of the judiciary bought residencies at huge discounts.

 Coskun's desk neighbor is the imprisoned "Cumhuriyet" journalist Ahmet Sik. Sik was tried in 2011 in the trials connected with the alleged secret ultra-nationalist organization Ergenekon, during which many police officers, journalists, academics and soldiers, including the former Chief of General Staff Ilker Basbug, were tried with attempting to bring down the government. He was imprisoned for more than a year.

Türkei Canan Coskun Reporterin der Cumhuriyet (DW/K. Akyol)

Coskun: "We don't have the luxury of fear"

The supreme court of appeals reversed the judgment of the district court last year, stating that there was no such organization. However, one month ago, Sik was once again detained. This time he is being tried on charges of spreading propaganda on behalf of FETO.

Coskun said that Sik and all other imprisoned co-workers were standing tall against the unwarranted and conflicting charges. She said that they set an example and were a motivation to her. "We don't have the luxury of fear. We need to keep reporting. This is a must."

Watch video 05:01

Reporters in Turkey under arrest

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