New York, July 28, 2017--Turkish authorities should immediately and unconditionally release all employees and directors of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, and all journalists jailed for their work, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. A court in Istanbul today ordered seven Cumhuriyet employees and managers released pending the conclusion of their trial, according to press reports.
Cumhuriyet reported that Istanbul's 27th Court for Serious Crimes ordered the release of cartoonist Musa Kart; columnists Güray Öz and Hakan Kara; literary supplement editor Turhan Günay; and board members Önder Çelik, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, and Bülent Utku. The court ordered four other defendants, including Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, jailed pending the conclusion of the trial. The remaining defendants, including Can Dündar, the newspaper's award-winning former editor, are being tried in absentia. The trial is scheduled to resume on September 11, according to press reports.
"The release pending trial of seven Cumhuriyet employees and directors is a small step in the right direction, but the defendants should never have spent a day in jail in the first place," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Authorities should put an end to this farcical trial by immediately dropping the transparently retaliatory charges against all 17 people in this case."
Charges brought against the journalists include membership in a terrorist organization, aiding a terrorist organization while not being a member, and "employment-related abuse of trust," according to press reports. Turkish prosecutors accuse Cumhuriyet of supporting exiled preacher Fethullah Gülen, whom the government accuses of masterminding a failed military coup in July 2016, and of aiding the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which Turkey classes as a terrorist group. The defendants deny the charges, press reports said.
At the time of CPJ's most recent annual global prison census, Turkey was holding more journalists in jail than any country at any time since CPJ began keeping track.