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Turkey court orders release of top journalist

Istanbul court on Monday ordered the release of leading Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel
A copy of the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper (AFP)

An Istanbul court on Monday ordered the release of leading Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel in the controversial trial of staff from the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper, but ruled that four other detained suspects must stay in jail.

The judge ruled that Gursel, one of Turkey's most respected journalists, could go free after 11 months in jail though he remains on trial on charges of links to terror groups, an AFP correspondent said. 

The trial of the staff from Cumhuriyet, a paper which has been deeply critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was adjourned until 31 October.

Gursel, a journalist for three decades, is now expected to be released from the Silivri jail outside Istanbul in the course of Monday night once formalities are completed.

During the trial, Gursel was defiant when he took the stand, claiming he was on trial because of his "journalistic activities".

"Whatever the verdict, I have an untroubled conscience. And if there is even a little bit of justice left in this period where justice has been trampled upon, I know I will be acquitted," he said.

Turkish court orders 5 reporters for opposition daily to remain in custody
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In a case that has caused an international outcry, 17 staff members are charged with supporting through their coverage three groups that Turkey considers terror groups.

Turkish prosecutors accused the reporters who have spent more than eight months in prison of waging "asymmetric war," a charge dubbed by the detained journalists as "illogical".

These are the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher whom Ankara accuses of ordering last year's coup attempt.

The Turkish government calls the movement the Fethullah Terror Group (FETO).

Supporters of the paper say it has always taken a tough line against the three organisations and is being punished for being one of the few opposition voices in Turkish media. 

"I worked with them. I know their past. These colleagues cannot be terrorists, those friends cannot be FETO," defence witness Alev Coskun, a board member of the Cumhuriyet foundation and influential writer, told the court.

He also pointed to tensions at the newspaper under the editorship of Can Dundar, who in 2015 broke an explosive story claiming Turkey was sending arms to Syria, and who now lives in exile in Germany.

"This is a serious newspaper. It is not a newspaper where Can Dundar played games," Coskun said.

Those remaining under arrest include the paper's chairman Akin Atalay and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, who like Gursel have been held behind bars for 330 days.

This is a serious newspaper. It is not a newspaper where Can Dundar played games

- Alev Coskun, Cumhuriyet foundation board member

Investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, who has been held for 269 days, as well as accountant Emre Iper, detained for 173 days, also remain under arrest.

Sik wrote a book exposing the past ties of members of the Turkish elite to the Gulen movement.

"I've said whatever is needed in order to invalidate the unrealistic and baseless allegations," Gursel told the court before the ruling.

"I ask my release first and then my acquittal because there's no justification left to keep me in prison," Gursel, a columnist and an editorial director of Cumhuriyet, told the court.

Also on trial in the case is a teacher, Ahmet Kemal Aydogdu, who maintained a popular Twitter account. He is accused of being a terror group leader, and although his case is unrelated to the one against Cumhuriyet it has been merged into the same trial.

Earlier, about 200 people gathered outside the Istanbul courthouse, carrying portraits of the journalists and banners with slogans including "Freedom for journalists" and "Independent press cannot be silenced".

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 171 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested under the state of emergency imposed after the coup attempt on 15 July, 2016.

The country ranks 155 out of 180 on the latest world press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).