Cumhuriyet’s Atalay: Happiness impossible while many still in prison

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Cumhuriyet chairman Akin Atalay hugs his friends after being released from Silivri prison in front of the Cumhuriyet daily newspaper's headquarters in Istanbul on April 26, 2018. A Turkish court on April 25 convicted journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet daily newspaper for helping outlawed "terrorist" organisations, but editors remained defiant vowing their "honourable" journalism would not stop. Cumhuriyet -- which means simply "Republic" -- was set up in 1924 after the Turkish republic was founded in 1923. / AFP PHOTO / BULENT KILIC

The Cumhuriyet daily’s chief executive officer, Akın Atalay, who was released from pretrial detention last night, said he would be ashamed to be happy while many people are still in jail, Cumhuriyet reported.

“I’ll go about my business within the boundaries of the law. I’d like to say ‘I’m happy,’ but I can’t be happy. There are many victims in prison. Any human being would be ashamed to be happy under those circumstances,” Atalay said while participating in a “Vigil of Justice” at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse on Thursday.

Speaking to journalists after his release from Silivri Prison last night, Atalay said: “There are hundreds of journalists, students, academics, public servants, lawyers and many others in prison. They are victims of the ‘victim creation centers’ [the judiciary]. It is everybody’s duty to see them released. I believe it will happen soon. We are close to the dawn after a long night.”

A Turkish court on Wednesday convicted journalists from Cumhuriyet for helping outlawed “terrorist” organizations.

Veteran journalist Ahmet Şık, Cumhuriyet daily Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and columnist Aydın Engin were given seven years, six months, while Cumhuriyet CEO Akın Atalay was sentenced to seven years, three months, 15 days. Publisher Orhan Erinç and columnist Hikmet Çetinkaya got six years, three months and editorial consultant Kadri Gürsel two years, six months. Three other Cumhuriyet employees, Önder Çelik, Hakan Kara, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, received three years, nine months in prison.

The judge ordered the release of Atalay who had been in jail for over 500 days despite his conviction.

Turkey, which has jailed more than 250 journalists and media workers, is ranked 157th among 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. If Turkey falls two more places, it will make it to the list of countries on the blacklist, which have the poorest record in press freedom.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) show that 259 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 21, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 200 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 141 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 about 200 media outlets after the coup attempt.

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