Cumhuriyet journalists appear in court 267 days after arrest

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People and journalists from daily opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet free colored air balloons as they shout slogans during a gathering on July 24, 2017 in front of Istanbul`s courthouse. Seventeen directors and journalists from Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey's most respected opposition newspapers, go on trial on July 24 after spending over eight months behind bars in a case which has raised new alarm over press freedoms under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

The trial of 17 suspects, including Cumhuriyet daily journalists and executives who were arrested in November 2016, began at an İstanbul court on Monday, 267 days after the newspaper’s staff members were arrested.

An indictment drafted by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office in April 2017 originally named 19 suspects, including former Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar, who left Turkey before a failed military coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in the April indictment accuse them of aiding the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and FETÖ.

FETÖ is a derogatory term and acronym for the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization, coined by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government to refer to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of masterminding the failed coup attempt. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch.

The suspects named in the indictment are Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, the daily’s chief executive officer Akın Atalay, Editor Turhan Günay, editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel, member representative Güray Öz, cartoonist Musa Kart, columnist Hakan Kara, lawyers Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör, manager Önder Çelik, reporter Ahmet Şık, publisher Orhan Erinç, columnists Aydın Engin and Hikmet Çetinkaya, accountant Günseli Özaltay and a former employee Bülent Yener.

During the first hearing at the İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court on Monday, Sabuncu demanded that the proceedings be adjourned until July 25, stating that some of his documents and newspaper reports had been confiscated. The court accepted his request.

The suspects were arrested by the İstanbul 9th Penal Court of Peace on Nov. 5, 2016. Atalay was detained at İstanbul Atatürk Airport upon his return from Germany and subsequently arrested on Nov. 12, 2016.

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