First Published: 2018-03-15

Turkey journalists protest for colleague after 500 days in prison
Cumhuriyet daily'schairman Akin Atalay is still held in jail and is only suspect of 17 Cumhuriyet staff probed in high-profile case still behind bars.
Middle East Online

The Cumhuriyet (Republic) trial set off alarm bells over the state of press freedom in Turkey.

ANKARA - A group of Turkish journalists on Thursday staged a protest urging freedom for all jailed colleagues, after the chairman of an opposition daily marked spending 500 days in prison.

The Cumhuriyet daily's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and investigative reporter Ahmet Sik walked free from prison last Friday after more than a year in jail although they remain on trial.

But paper's chairman Akin Atalay is still held in jail and is the only suspect of 17 Cumhuriyet staff probed in the case still behind bars.

Atalay spent his 500th day in detention on Wednesday, the paper marking it with an editorial headlined "Injustice on its 500th day."

They are accused of terror-related crimes and face up to 43 years in prison if convicted. The next trial hearing is set for Friday.

The freed journalists as well as lawyers gathered outside Istanbul's main Caglayan court on Thursday morning, carrying Atalay's picture.

"We will continue to do journalism because journalism is not a crime," Sik told the crowd.

The Cumhuriyet (Republic) trial set off alarm bells over the state of press freedom in Turkey. It is still not clear when the final verdict will be announced.

- 'See the sky'-

Sabuncu said he couldn't enjoy his freedom while there were still other journalists in jail.

"It is not a good feeling to be free under these circumstances because Akin Atalay is still in jail," he said.

But he admitted it was a great feeling to "see the sky."

"We will continue to perform our profession of journalism and stand tall for everyone to see the sky," he said.

Musa Kart, the paper's cartoonist who was jailed in the case and then released last year, said the case was based on "unfair, unlawful and baseless allegations."

"This case has faded in the public consciousness," he said.

"Turkey has no interest or benefit in lengthening this case. We need to let common sense prevail rapidly," he added.

"I believe that journalists and politicians behind bars should obtain their freedom."

Dozens of journalists have been detained in Turkey in the wake of the failed July 2016 coup aimed at unseating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and blamed by the government on US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Gulen has denied the accusation.

The Cumhuriyet staff are charged with supporting Gulen as well as the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the far-left Revolutionary Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C).


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