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Turkey sentences 14 journalists to prison on terrorism charges

Outside the court house where Cumhuriyet journalists were charged on Wednesday [Getty]

Date of publication: 25 April, 2018

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Nearly all of the journalists work for the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, which has routinely criticised Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey on Wednesday sentenced 14 journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet daily to jail on terrorism charges in a move that drew widespread international outrage. 

They were given multiple sentences for "aiding and abetting terror organisations without being a member," AFP reported. Three others were acquitted of their charges. 

The sentences ranged in length from two-and-a-half to seven-and-a-half years, lawyer Ozden Ozdemir told Reuters. One of the defendants, who does not work for Cumhuriyet, was handed down the longest sentence - 10 years. 

"Enough is enough with this cruelty," wrote Cumhuriyet on its front page on Wednesday ahead of the convictions.

After the verdict, the newspaper said on its website: "You will be shamed in front of history".

The daily was founded in 1924 less than a year after the creation of the Turkish republic. It is a staunch supporter of the secular nation created by founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and in recent years has taken a strong stance against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development (AK) party.

Cumhuriyet staff were charged in 2016 with supporting the Gulenists, named after the US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who Ankara blames for the July 2016 failed coup attempt. 

Speaking of Wednesday's court date, Ozdemir said that it "was absolutely not a lawful verdict." "At the end, it is a political case," he said.

Wednesday's court ruling is part of a recent string of charges laid against journalists in the country. 

In 2016, the court ruled in May 2016 against Cumhuriyet's then-editor-in-chief Can Dundar, a high-profile Turkish writer who took up the post in February 2015 and moved the paper to the left. He was at the time handed a five-year-and-10-month jail sentence for revealing state secrets, with his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul sentenced to five years.

But last month, Turkey's top appeals court quashed the verdict. The Court of Cassation, known as the Yargitay, said he should face an even more serious charge of "providing information for the purpose of espionage" and a longer prison term of up to 20 years.

Dundar fled to Germany in July 2016 after being found guilty. He was also wanted over the current case against Cumhuriyet, but Wednesday's court ruling ordered his dossier be separated from the others. 

Turkey is the world's worst jailer of journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Authorities have also arrested more than 110,000 people after the failed coup attempt as part of an ever-widening crackdown.

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