European court rules Turkey violated rights of Cumhuriyet journalists

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The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that Turkey violated the right to liberty and security as well as the right to freedom of expression of a group of journalists and executives from the anti-government Cumhuriyet daily who stood trial on terrorism charges in the country.

The court made its ruling unanimously at a session on Tuesday.

In 2018 a Turkish court sentenced 13 Cumhuriyet journalists and executives to prison on terrorism charges in a case that sparked widespread outrage over press freedom.

Three of the journalists on trial were acquitted. The Cumhuriyet staff were arrested during a crackdown after a failed coup in July 2016.

The Strasbourg-based court ruled that the arrests of the journalists were not based on reasonable grounds and that there was no evidence proving their involvement in disseminating the propaganda of a terrorist organization.

The court ruled that Turkey pay compensation of 16,000 euros each to the daily’s then editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, then-chief executive officer Akın Atalay, cartoonist Musa Kart and journalists Önder Çelik, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Hakan Karasinir, Güray Tekin Öz and Bülent Utku.

Ankara has three months to file an objection to the court’s decision.

Turkish prosecutors accused the Cumhuriyet staff of supporting groups it has labeled terrorist organizations, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP/C) and the Gülen movement, accused by Ankara of masterminding the failed coup. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed coup.

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). The Turkish government has been harshly criticized for jailing journalists critical of it and closing down hundreds of media outlets in the country in the aftermath of the coup attempt in July 2016, as a result creating a media that is under its absolute control.

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