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Cumhuriyet journalists sentenced to jail

April 25, 2018

International rights groups criticized the case as emblematic of deteriorating press freedom in Turkey. Cumhuriyet is one of the newspapers critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

People gather outside the courthouse during the Cumhuriyet trial
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Y. Akgul

A Turkish court on Wednesday sentenced 14 staff members of the country's main opposition newspaper, Cumhuriyet, to prison on charges of supporting terrorist groups.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International and Reporters Without Borders, had sharply criticized the case amid broader fears about a crackdown on press freedom in Turkey.

Read more: European Rights Court condemns Turkey over journalist jailings

The verdict:

  • Prosecutors charged a total 17 Cumhuriyet employees with supporting groups the government has labeled terrorist organizations. Three defendants were acquitted.
  • The groups allegedly being supported included the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the Gulen movement, which the government accused of masterminding a failed coup in 2016.
  • The paper's chairman, Akin Atalay, was sentenced to eight years, one month and 15 days in prison, but would be set free pending an appeal. Atalay was the only defendant still in prison at the time of the verdict.
  • Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and prominent investigative journalist Ahmet Sik were both sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.
  • The remaining 11 convicted defendants received prison sentences of varying lengths.
  • The case against former-editor-in-chief Can Dundar, who is living in exile in Germany, would continue separately.

Read more: Turkish police break up press freedom rally after 'Cumhuriyet' arrests

Turkish journalists in court

What were the reactions?

Sabuncu told DW after the trial: "These [sentences] will not hold us back from doing the profession with courage ... this is Turkey's and Turkish justice's shame. I hope that this decision will be overturned by the high court. I call on everyone living in Turkey to be courageous."

Caroline Stockford, the Turkey Advocacy Coordinator at International Press Institute (IPI), told DW: "It's a shocking disgrace that with no evidence and many breaches of protocol in the courtroom, such decisions can be reached. They are absolutely baseless and ridiculous."

Opposition lawmaker Sezgin Tanrikulu from the Republican People's Party (CHP) told DW: "Justice did not take place. Journalism and people's right to get news were sentenced."

Read more: Press freedom index: Turkey remains world's worst jailer of journalists

What is Cumhuriyet? The daily newspaper, whose name translates to "Republic," is one of the most prominent media outlets critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It is also the country's oldest daily newspaper — it was founded in 1924, one year after the creation of the modern Turkish state.

Free press under threat: The Turkish government under Erdogan has governed the country under an emergency law passed after the failed 2016 coup. Authorities have used the decree to arrest opposition journalists and shut down several media organizations.

Read more: 'State of emergency being used to silence dissident voices'

amp/sms (dpa, AFP, Reuters) Burcu Karakaş in Istanbul contributed to this report.