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Journalist arrested while attempting to flee Turkey to serve remaining sentence

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A journalist who was trying to flee Turkey has been sent back to prison after an appeals court upheld a sentence on conviction of membership in a terrorist organization, the Bold Medya news website reported on Friday.

Recai Morkoç was one of the editors at the Cihan News Agency, which was shut down by a government decree in connection with an investigation into the faith-based Gülen movement due to its affiliation with the movement in the aftermath of a coup attempt in Turkey in 2016. 

He spent 16 months in pretrial detention in a prison in Antalya before he was sentenced to six years, three months over links to the Gülen movement, accused by the government of masterminding the failed coup. The movement strongly denies any involvement in the failed putsch. 

He was working in İstanbul after he was released pending appeal until his sentence was upheld by the higher court, at which point he attempted to flee Turkey to avoid going back to prison. 

Morkoç was arrested last Tuesday in the western province of Edirne while trying to cross the border along with a former judge who was expelled from his job in a post coup crackdown. The journalist was sent to Edirne Prison to serve his remaining sentence.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) government launched a war against the Gülen movement, a worldwide civic initiative inspired by the ideas of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, following corruption investigations in late 2013 that implicated then-prime minister and current President Erdoğan’s close circle.

The war against the movement accelerated after the attempted coup because Erdoğan and his AKP government accused the movement of masterminding the abortive putsch and initiated a widespread purge aimed at cleansing sympathizers of the movement from state institutions, dehumanizing its popular figures and putting them in custody.

A total of 319,587 people have been detained and 99,962 arrested in operations against supporters of the Gülen movement since the coup attempt, Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu said in a statement in December. 

In addition to the thousands who were jailed, scores of other Gülen movement followers had to flee Turkey to avoid the government crackdown.

According to a report released on January 10, Working Journalists Day, by Sezgin Tanrıkulu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and deputy head of the parliamentary Human Rights Investigation Committee, at least 811 journalists have been arrested since the AKP came to power in 2002. There are currently 59 journalist in prisons across Turkey.

Turkey, which has dropped precipitously since it was ranked 100th among 139 countries when Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published its first worldwide index in 2002, was ranked 153rd out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.

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