Retrial of 8 journalists begins after sentences overturned by high court

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Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Mutlu Gölgeçen, Atilla Taş, Murat Aksoy

Eight journalists appeared in an İstanbul criminal court on Wednesday in the first hearing of their retrial, made possible when the country’s top court earlier this year overturned their prison sentences, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

The retrial of journalists Ahmet Memiş, Ali Akkuş, Cemal Azmi Kalyoncu, Gökçe Fırat Çulhaoğlu, Ünal Tanık, Yakup Çetin, Yetkin Yıldız and Atilla Taş, who also a singer, began on Wednesday at the İstanbul 25th High Criminal Court. They face charges of membership in a terrorist organization due to their alleged links to the Gülen movement, which is accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in July 2016, a claim strongly denied by the movement.

The journalists had previously been convicted of membership in the Gülen movement and sentenced to prison. The Supreme Court of Appeals said the defendants’ actions did not constitute sufficient evidence to prove their affiliation with the group.

The high court in its decision also said the journalists’ publications cannot be viewed as simple journalism, either, and that they constitute the crime of deliberately aiding and abetting the movement without having membership in it.

In their defense statements, the journalists denied having any links to the Gülen movement, saying their actions considered to be criminal were within the limits of journalism. They asked for their acquittal as well as removal of the judicial supervision measures imposed on them.

 “Make a ruling that will allow us to say there are [independent] judges in this country,” Taş told the panel of judges.

The court refused to remove the judicial supervision measures imposed on the journalists such as a travel ban, saying they are proportionate to the charges, and adjourned the trial until March 21, 2021

One of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, Turkey was ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

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