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Prosecutor seeks 15 years for Cumhuriyet executives, journalists

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The prosecutor overseeing an ongoing “terror” investigation into executives and writers from Turkey’s Cumhuriyet daily on Friday demanded the imprisonment of all defendants for 15 years each.

The İstanbul 27th High Criminal Court near Silivri Prison decided on Friday for continuation of the imprisonment of Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay and Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, who stands accused of having maintained a popular Twitter account known as @Jeansbiri, which was allegedly affiliated with the Gülen movement.

According to a report by the pro-Erdoğan Daily Sabah, 13 Cumhuriyet employees, among whom are also journalist Ahmet Şık and the daily’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, are accused of “aiding an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it.”

The prosecutor read out the indictment during the hearing.

A court had previously ordered the conditional release of Sabuncu and Şık, who were accused of links to the Gülen movement. Atalay was ordered by the same court to remain in prison.

According to the report, the majority of evidence in the indictment comes from social media posts along with allegations that staff members had been in contact with users of the ByLock mobile phone messaging application.

Turkish authorities believe that ByLock is a communication tool among alleged followers of the Gülen movement. Tens of thousands of people, including civil servants, police officers, soldiers, businessmen and even housewives, have either been dismissed or arrested for using ByLock since a failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016.

The sixth hearing of the trial of 17 Cumhuriyet executives, journalists and a Twitter phenomenon was held on March 9 during which the testimonies of several witnesses were heard.

The prosecutor’s 324-page indictment claims the Cumhuriyet daily was effectively taken over by the Gülen movement, an accusation denied by the newspaper and the suspects. The charges the suspects face include “membership in an armed terrorist organization” and “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it.”

The charges brought against 17 Cumhuriyet employees in an April indictment accused them of aiding the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and the Gülen movement.

On Sept. 26, 2017 the court ruled for the release of Cumhuriyet daily journalist Kadri Gürsel. Earlier, in July 2017, the court released Güray Öz, Musa Kart, Bülent Utku, Hakan Kara, Önder Çelik, Turhan Günay and Mustafa Kemal Güngör. Arrest warrants for Cumhuriyet’s former Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and US-based journalist İlhan Tanır are still outstanding.

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. Cumhuriyet reporter Şık was also detained on Dec. 22 and arrested on Dec. 30, 2016 on charges of disseminating terrorist propaganda.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

(Stockholm Center for Freedom [SCF])

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