Turkey: Cumhuriyet convictions a further blow to the rule of law

Press freedom and the rule of law in Turkey suffered yet another blow on 19 February 2019. In a detrimental ruling, an appeals court in Istanbul upheld the guilty verdicts and sentencing of independent newspaper Cumhuriyet’s journalists and staff members. The defendants were charged with ‘assisting a terrorist organisation whilst not being a member’ and ‘propaganda of a terrorist organisation’ on 26 April 2018 and handed prison sentences of between two years and six months, and eight years and one month. According to the court ruling, many journalists, the accountant and board members of the newspaper – who have previously served lengthy periods in pre-trial detention – will have to return to prison to serve the remainder of their sentences.

International freedom of expression organisations, who have closely monitored the Cumhuriyet case since its inception in 2017, strongly condemn yesterday’s ruling.

From the outset, the charges against the defendants were politically motivated and utterly ungrounded, lacking sufficient evidence and aimed at silencing the remnants of independent journalism in Turkey. We condemn the upholding by the regional appeal court of these sentences that were representative of a clear miscarriage of justice. We support the appellants’ right to have their case examined with urgency at the Constitutional Court.

Sarah Clarke, ARTICLE 19’s Head of Europe and Central Asia, said:

The decision of the first instance appeals court in upholding these politically-motivated sentences is yet another example of the lack of a functional judicial system and domestic remedy in Turkey.

IPI’s Turkey Advocacy Coordinator, Caroline Stockford, added:

the decision to uphold the sentences, especially following such a lengthy politically-motivated trial and lack of evidence against the defendants is a clear demonstration of the lack of the rule of law and domestic legal remedy in Turkey today.

Carles Torner, Executive Director of PEN International, commented:

Charges brought against staff and journalists from Cumhuriyet were designed to harass, intimidate and ultimately stifle independent voices in Turkey. We firmly condemn yesterday’s verdict and call for the sentences and convictions of all defendants to be quashed.

According to yesterday’s ruling of the 3rd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice, the following defendants will have to serve remaining imprisonment terms of between one and three years: columnists Hakan Kara and Kadri Gürsel, board member Mustafa Kemal Güngör, cartoonist Musa Kart, accountant Emre İper, ombudsman and journalist Güray Öz and lawyer Bülent Utku.

The defendants were all initially kept in pre-trial detention and subsequently released during the proceedings. According to the Turkish court system, today’s decision is final and can only be overturned by the Constitutional Court, which is overloaded with an enormous backlog of cases. Appeals of the other defendants in the Cumhuriyet’s case: English PEN’s former writer-in-residence Ahmet Şık, Akın Atalay, Aydın Engin, Hikmet Çetinkaya, Murat Sabuncu and Orhan Erinç, will be heard by the Court of Cassation, which has jurisdiction over cases with penalties over five years of imprisonment.

Signatories

ARTICLE 19
Articolo 21
English PEN
European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF)
International Press Institute (IPI)
PEN International
PEN Flanders
Norwegian PEN
Rebecca Harms MEP

About Cat Lucas

Cat Lucas is English PEN's Writers at Risk Programme Manager

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