Turkish court orders release of two ′Cumhuriyet′ journalists during trial | News | DW | 09.03.2018
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Turkish court orders release of two 'Cumhuriyet' journalists during trial

Two more prominent journalists have been released in the sprawling trial against the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper. Upon release, one vowed that the "mafia" Turkish regime would fall.

A Turkish court on Friday ordered the release of two prominent journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper pending the completion of their trial on terror-related charges.

Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and investigative reporter Ahmet Şik, who have been in pre-trial detention for more than 400 days, were ordered released by a court at Silivri prison outside Istanbul.

Akin Atalay, the chairman of the paper's executive board, is to remain in custody. 

Seventeen Cumhuriyet journalists and staff stand accused making "terrorist" propaganda and threatening the constitutional order.

The other suspects were previously released from pre-trial detention. The trial was adjourned until March 16. It is unclear when a final verdict will be handed down.

The charges against the Cumhuriyet journalists have drawn widespread criticism.

Absurd charges

The terror organizations the paper is accused of supporting through their coverage include the Gulen movement, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and far-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

The three groups are rivals and at odds with each other.

The absurdity of the charges are highlighted by the case against Şik.

He is best known for his investigative work into the shadowy network of US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, an ally-turned-foe of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whom the government blames for the July 2016 failed coup attempt.

Murat Sabuncu in Istanbul (Reuters/H. Aldemir)

Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu was in jail for more than 400 days

Read more: Real and imagined threats: the shared past of the AKP and the Gulen movement

The government accuses Gulen of infiltrating the state bureaucracy, military, police, judiciary, media and other institutions over nearly three decades to form a "parallel state structure."

Erdogan's longtime association with Gulen and his movement, before the two had a falling out over a corruption scandal in 2013, has had the government backpedaling to explain how and why it worked hand-in-hand with a group it now labels a terrorist organization.

In 2011, Şik was sentenced to a year in prison and a book he wrote about the Gulenist infiltration of the state in cooperation with Erdogan, titled "The Imam's Army," was confiscated and banned. The move against Şik is widely believed to have been led by Gulenist prosecutors.

Lawyers for the defendants point out that it was Cumhuriyet that had long warned about the Gulen movement.

Upon being released from Silivri prison, Şik told reporters: "The only difference between that last time I was released from prison and this time is that one of the partners in fascism (Gulenists) is gone. I guarantee you: This mafia regime (Erdogan) will end."

Court demands tougher sentence for Can Dundar

In a separate case, Turkey's highest court on Friday overruled a lower court ruling giving a five-year jail sentence to prominent journalist Can Dundar, Cumhuriyet's former editor-in-chief.

The high court found that Dundar should face up to 20 years in prison for espionage, instead of the lesser charge of revealing confidential information for publishing a video that allegedly showed Turkish arms transfers to Syria rebels. Dundar is currently in Germany.

Friday's court decisions come a day after an Istanbul court sentenced 25 people, almost all of whom worked for media with close ties to Gulen, to prison terms of up to seven and a half years.

More than 150 journalists are in jail in Turkey.

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