Turkish opposition media trial begins 

Turkish opposition media trial begins 

Seventeen directors and journalists from one of Turkey’s most respected opposition newspapers go on trial today (Monday) after spending over eight months behind bars in a case which raises further fears about press freedoms under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The suspects from Cumhuriyet were detained from October last year under the state of emergency implemented after the botched coup on July 15 last year which was blamed on the exiled, US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen.

The charges they face remain unclear.

The defendants could be handed down terms of up to 43 years in jail, with Turkey now ranking 155th on the latest Reporters Sans Frontières world press freedom index, below Belarus and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 166 journalists behind bars with most arrested under the state of emergency.

It is the highest number in the world, ahead of China and Egypt.

According to the state-run Anadolu agency, the charges brought against 17 journalists in their April indictment accuse them of supporting “terrorist organisations”, including Gulen, and the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party or PKK.

Activists have labelled the trial an assault on freedom of expression and say the accusations are absurd because Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s newspaper of record that is committed to secularism, has long warned of the dangers of the Gülen movement, which itself opposes the PKK.

The charges are seen as an attempt at replacing the newspaper’s board of directors with government appointees, more pliable to the Erdogan’s influence.

“I have been a journalist for a long time and have dealt with this for a long time,” said Aydın Engin, a Cumhuriyet veteran who is standing trial but was released for health reasons. “I will say that I am ashamed and in agony for my country because of these irrational accusations,” Engin said.

As of March this year, 173 media providers had been shut down, including newspapers, magazines, radio stations, websites and news agencies. Wikipedia has been blocked. More than 2,500 journalists have been laid off as part of the closures and 800 have had their press cards revoked, according to the Republican People’s Party, the main opposition and former dominant party.

Ahmet Sik was arrested in December with the public prosecutor reportedly blaming his tweets and Cumhuriyet stories for ”denigrating the Republic of Turkey, its judicial bodies, military and security organisation” and “propagandising for a terrorist organisation”.

Protests against the imprisonment of journalists from Cumhuriyet in Istanbul, last October. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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