Turkey’s top court orders release of imprisoned Cumhuriyet newspaper staff

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals has ordered the release of six former employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, who were imprisoned over terrorism-related charges, the T24 news portal reported on Thursday.

The ruling relates to journalists Hakan Kara, Mustafa Kemal Gungor, Guray Oz, Onder Celik, Bulent Utku and caricaturist Musa Kart, according to a news report by Gokcer Tahincioglu from T24.

The journalists had received sentences of less than five years in prison, which usually leads to a suspended sentence in Turkish courts.

Following the ruling, Kara, Oz, Kart, Celik, and Gungor were released from the Kandıra F-Type Prison in the northwestern Kocaeli province late on Thursday, while the warrant of arrest on journalist Utku was also lifted.

The court also ordered a ban on the six journalists’ leaving the country.

The three-year, one month and 15 days long sentence given by the appeals court to the newspaper’s former accountant, Emre Iper, on the charge of “supporting a terrorist organization” was approved by the top court.

The court further ruled to reverse convictions of other Cumhuriyet staff members Akin Atalay, Orhan Erinc, Murat Sabuncu, Aydin Engin, Hikmet Cetinkaya and Ahmet Sik, who had been released pending trial and placed under judicial supervision.

Another verdict on the politician, author and journalist Sik ordered him to be retried on charges that include “publicly insulting the Turkish Nation, the State of the Turkish Republic and the judicial institutions of the State” as it is stated in the 301st Article of the Turkish Penal Code (TCK).

“The verdict of the Court of Cassation corrected a mistake. However, we will not give up on our demand for a modern state of law,” Canan Coskun from the Gazete Duvar news portal quoted caricaturist Kart as saying.

Upon their release, Kart spoke to the press on behalf of all the released journalists of the Cumhuriyet daily.

“It is hard to live in countries where people have lost their sense of humor. But it is even harder to live in those where everything is humorous. Unfortunately, we are passing through a period in which everything is [like a] humor. If one looks at our case file, this fact can be clearly observed,” Kart said.

Referring to the fact that that they had appeared in court nine months after their detention, Kart underlined that people living in modern states of law initially face trial and are then sentenced to time in prison.

“What we experienced was the exact opposite. We could only appear before the judge after nine months in Silivri [Prison]. So, we were sentenced in advance,” Kart explained.

“To tell you the truth, this amount of hilarity goes even beyond the imagination of a caricaturist,” he outlined.

The journalists, who had been in and out of prison for more than two years since being sentenced, were briefly freed while appealing their convictions that were upheld by an Istanbul court in February.

They were then returned to Kandira prison near Istanbul to serve the rest of their sentences.

They were charged with supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the faith-based movement of the U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen.

The PKK, which is labeled as a terrorist organization by Ankara, has launched a decades-long separatist insurgency in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast in 1984.

The Turkish government also designates the network of Gulen as a terrorist organization and blames it for masterminding the failed coup attempt in 2016.

Both Gulen and his followers deny any involvement in the coup.

Turkey is by far the leading jailer of journalists in the world, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that was published in December 2018.

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