Staff from newspaper critical of Erdogan convicted and sentenced

Six journalists and another staff member from the Sozcu newspaper were handed jail terms by an Istanbul court after being convicted of aiding the Gulen movement, which the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of masterminding the failed 2016 coup.

The daily on Friday described the Istanbul 37th Heavy Penal Court’s verdict regarding its seven staff members as “a black mark in the history of law and free press.”

Sozcu has been fiercely critical of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The daily’s prominent columnists Emin Colasan and Necati Dogru received sentences of three years six months and 15 days while its editors Mustafa Cetin and Metin Yilmaz were sentenced to three years and four months.

Sozcu’s online news editor Yucel Ari, financial manager Yonca Yucelan, and reporter Gokmen Ulu were also sentenced to two years and one month in prison.

They were on Friday convicted of “knowingly aiding and abetting the FETO terrorist organization without being part of its hierarchical structure.”

FETO is an acronym for Ankara’s designation of the Gulen movement, which is led by the US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen as a terror organization.

The Turkish government also accuses the faith-based movement of orchestrating the coup attempt that took place on July 15, 2016.

Video journalist Mediha Ongun was on Friday acquitted by the court, which also deferred a ruling on the Sozcu’s owner Burak Akbay, who is living abroad and being tried in absentia.

Leader of the main opposition secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Friday condemned the verdict against the Sozcu staff saying that it is given on orders from the AKP government.

“They [AKP] cannot tolerate the fact that Sozcu sheds light on [critical issues of] Turkey and points out the truth. … What upsets me the most is that [through this verdict] we have announced the whole world that there’s no justice or democracy in the country,” CHP leader stressed.

Although Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999, as well as his followers, deny any involvement in the abortive coup, Ankara has cracked down on the real and alleged members of Gulen’s movement.

More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, and some 150,000 civil servants, military personnel, press members, and others have been dismissed or suspended from their jobs in the three years since the failed military coup.

According to the latest data from the Journalists’ Union of Turkey (TGS), currently, there are 108 journalists in Turkey’s prisons.

Operations against the Gulen movement in the country are routine.

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