Protesters hold copies of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet during a demonstration in front of a courthouse in Istanbul on October 31, 2017. Today, the Istanbul appeals court rejected several appeals relating to the Cumhuriyet case. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

Turkish appeals court upholds prison sentences for Cumhuriyet staff

February 19, 2019 3:00 PM ET

Istanbul, February 19, 2019--The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Istanbul appeals court's decision today to uphold the terrorism-related convictions of the staff of pro-opposition daily newspaper Cumhuriyet.

Fourteen people associated with Cumhuriyet, including journalists and staff members, were convicted on terrorism-related charges in April 2018, as CPJ reported at the time.

"The entire prosecution of the Cumhuriyet journalists and staff has been a miscarriage of justice," Gulnoza Said, CPJ's Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, said from Bratislava, Slovakia. "We urge the Turkish authorities to drop the case once and for all and ensure that none of the Cumhuriyet staffers spend another moment in prison just for doing their jobs."

The Istanbul appeals court was responsible for the cases of Cumhuriyet staffers who were sentenced to five years or less in prison and have been free on probation pending their appeal: columnists Hakan Kara and Güray Öz, cartoonist Musa Kart, lawyer Mustafa Kemal Güngör, board member Önder Çelik, and accountant Emre İper were denied appeal and are required to return to prison to serve the rest of their sentences; columnist and advisor Kadri Gürsel (also the Turkey chair of the International Press Institute) and lawyer Bülent Utku will not go back to prison due to time already served, according to Cumhuriyet and Reuters.

At the time of publication, no media reports indicate that those sentenced to return to prison have yet been taken into custody. CPJ reached out to the journalists' lawyers for comment via WhatsApp and did not immediately receive a response.

Those sentenced to more than five years will continue to wait for their cases to be heard by Turkey's Supreme Court of Appeals; according to Cumhuriyet, those include former Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, prominent journalist and current parliamentary deputy Ahmet Şık, columnists Hikmet Çetinkaya, Orhan Erinç, and Aydın Engin, and former Cumhuriyet Foundation Chair Akin Atalay.

The Cumhuriyet trial started on July 24, 2017, following the police raid of the newspaper's Istanbul offices and arrests of its staff in October 2016, as CPJ reported. Turkish prosecutors accused those connected with Cumhuriyet of aiding exiled preacher Fethullah Gulen, whom the government accuses of masterminding a failed military coup in July 2016, and of aiding the Kurdistan Workers' Party, which Turkey classes as a terrorist group. As CPJ has reported, the defendants have denied these charges, maintaining that they were simply doing the work of journalists.

Turkey is the world's worst jailer of journalists, with at least 68 in jail in direct relation to their work at the time of CPJ's latest prison census.

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