Turkey hands down lengthy jail terms for pro-Kurdish journalists over terror charges

Former editors and staff of the pro-Kurdish Ozgur Gundem newspaper have received prison sentences due to terror charges, pro-Kurdish Mezopotamya News Agency (MA) reported on Tuesday.

A Turkish court handed down the prison sentences on Tuesday to the staff of Ozgur Gundem, an Istanbul-based daily that was printed in both Turkish and Kurdish and was associated with the Kurdish political movement.

The daily was closed down in 2016 through the state of emergency decrees issued by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government following an attempted coup on July 15.

The Istanbul 14th Heavy Criminal Court ruled for a total of 15 years and a month in jail for the seven staff members of the newspaper as part of a case where 24 of them are currently facing trial.

“I support freedom of thought and speech. I do not think I committed a crime. I do not think that thought is a crime. I demand my acquittal,” said Eren Keskin, the daily’s former co-chief editor, in her defense on Tuesday.

Keskin, who is also the head of Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) was sentenced to three years and nine months in prison on charges that include making propaganda for a terrorist organization.

Huseyin Akyol, Keskin’s fellow co-chief editor who is currently being tried in 38 different cases was sent to two years and a month in jail.

Daily’s former managing editor Reyhan Capan was also given a three-year-and-nine-month sentence, while journalists Huseyin Guclu and Tahir Temel received 18 months, and Ayse Batumlu and Reyhan Hacioglu 15 months.

While the Istanbul court ruled that there is no need for deferring the announcement of the verdict given for the seven journalists, it suspended sentences of Batumlu and Hacioglu.

The court also returned a verdict of not guilty and acquitted journalists Ayse Berktay, Celalettin Can, Cemal Bozkurt, Cetin Ulu, Emrullah Kurcan, Nuray Ozdogan, Ergin Atabey, and Ozlem Soyler.

Seven other defendants will be tried separately, according to MA’s report on Tuesday.

Over the years Ozgur Gundem daily has faced dozens of investigations, fines and the arrest of its correspondents due to focusing on the conflict between the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants and Turkish security forces in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish Southeast.

The Kurdish political movement has been under an increasing crackdown by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP government since the failed military coup on July 15, 2016.

A number of media outlets critical of the governing AKP were shut and their staff charged with terror crimes as part of a wide-spread purge that came in the aftermath of the coup attempt.

PKK, an armed militant group that is regarded as a terrorist organization by the Turkish government, has waged an insurgency in southeastern Turkey since 1984.

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