Turkish court acquits Gursel but upholds verdict against 12 Cumhuriyet journalists

A Turkish court upheld sentences against a total of 12 ex-staff members of the opposition Cumhuriyet daily and also acquitted veteran journalist Kadri Gursel, the state-run Anadolu Agency (AA) reported on Thursday.

Economist Gursel was on Thursday acquitted due to a ruling by Turkey’s Constitutional Court.

The court previously ruled that “arresting someone based on his columns in a daily, without presenting strong evidence indicating a crime was committed, violates freedom of speech and press.”

A year after his arrest as part of an investigation on Cumhuriyet daily journalists in 2016, Gursel was released pending trial. He was sentenced to two and a half years for supporting a terrorist organization in April 2018.

The Istanbul 27th Heavy Penal court on Thursday upheld its conviction of 12 former employees of the opposition daily by defying a ruling of Turkey’s high court of appeals to overturn its verdict.

The Court of Cassation in September acquitted 13 defendants in the case, with the exception of journalist and politician Ahmet Sik, who they said should be tried for a different offense.

Tora Pekin, a lawyer for the daily, told Meltem Akyol from the left-leaning Evrensel daily that the case against the 12 defendants will now be re-evaluated by the Court of Cassation.

“With the Court of Cassation ruling [in September], we thought this endless arbitrariness and injustice were ending. But we understood in court today that it wasn’t so,” Pekin also told Reuters.

“Once again a Turkish court has defied the decision of the higher court. Once again, journalism is the victim in this case,” Emma Sinclair-Webb, Turkey director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said outside court on Thursday.

The Cumhuriyet staff, who were sentenced to various jail terms ranging from two-and-a-half years to eight years in jail on terrorism charges in 2018, have been in and out of prison for the duration of their trials.

The case against the 14 employees of Cumhuriyet, one of the very few remaining media outlets criticizing Turkey’s ruling AK Party (AK) government, has triggered global outrage over press freedom in the country under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The defendants were accused of supporting, through their news coverage, three groups that Ankara designates as terrorist organizations.

The organizations cited in this regard include the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group of Kurdish militants who have launched an insurgency in Turkey since 1984 and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).

The third group they were blamed for providing support is the Gulen movement, a network led by the USbased Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen. Ankara accuses Gulen of masterminding the failed military coup in 2016.

Although Gulen and his followers deny any involvement in the attempted coup, Turkish authorities have since jailed at least 77,000 people pending trial over their suspected links to the movement.

Some 150,000 people, including civil servants, judges, military personnel and others have also been sacked or suspended from their jobs while more than 170 media outlets have also been closed.

The International Press Institute (IPI), a global press watchdog, on Tuesday said Turkey is the world’s “undisputed leading jailer of journalists”.

More than 120 journalists are behind bars in Turkey as a result of an “extended, politically motivated crackdown against the media.”

Despite concerns and criticisms expressed by the country’s Western allies and international rights groups over the scale of the crackdown targeting the dissidents, Erdogan has defended the measures by arguing that it was “a necessary response.”

Bulent Utku, a former lawyer for the Cumhuriyet and one the defendants, on Thursday said in court that the case was “political from the beginning, and aimed at revenge.”

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