ISTANBUL (AP) — Journalists and staff from a Turkish newspaper staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have gone on trial in Istanbul, accused of aiding terror organizations — a case that has added to concerns over rights and freedoms in Turkey.
The 19 defendants, including Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, commentator Kadri Gursel and cartoonist Musa Kart went on trial on Monday — a day that is marked as press freedom day in Turkey. They are accused of sponsoring several outlawed organizations, including Kurdish militants, a far-left group and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen who is blamed for last year's failed coup.
Twelve of the defendants are in jail, while five were released from custody pending the outcome of the trial. Two of the suspects, including Cumhuriyet's former chief editor Can Dundar, are being tried in absentia. Dundar is in Germany.
Some of the Cumhuriyet staff members have been in prison for nine months. They face a variety of prison terms ranging between 7½ and 43 years.
A few hundred of their supporters gathered outside the courthouse demanding their acquittal and release, shouting "Rights, law, justice!" and "Freedom for journalists!"
Their arrests were part of a widespread government crackdown in the wake of the coup attempt, which has led to the imprisonment of more than 50,000 people, including journalists, opposition lawmakers and activists. Critics say the crackdown that initially targeted people suspected of links to the failed coup has expanded to include government opponents.
As part of the crackdown, about 160 journalists are currently in jail, mostly on terrorism-related charges, while more than 150 media outlets, from broadcasters to newspapers and magazines, have been shut down, leaving thousands unemployed. The country is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
The government insists that the journalists have been arrested for criminal activities — not for their reporting.
Associated Press writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey contributed.