Skip to main content

Turkey returns six Cumhuriyet journalists to jail

Among journalists is Musa Kart, who won prestigious prize for his editorial cartoons
Musa Kart creates editorial cartoons for Turkish media Cumhuriyet (AFP)

Six staff members of Turkey's opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper were jailed to serve out the remainder of their sentences after failed appeals against terrorism convictions, two of their lawyers said, as cited by Reuters.

Among the six was cartoonist Musa Kart, after an appeals court unanimously upheld their jail sentences on Thursday.

The six, also including four administrators and one accountant, were returned to Kandira prison to serve the rest of their time, an official from the opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) confirmed to AFP. 

Kandira is in the northwestern city of Kocaeli, almost 150km from Istanbul.

Last May, Kart was awarded a top prize by the organisation Cartooning for Peace.

The Swiss group hands out the honour, known as its International Editorial Cartoons Prize, every two years.

"The jury has chosen Musa Kart, iconic cartoonist of the Istanbul newspaper Cumhuriyet, for his talent and courage in the defence of freedom of expression," a statement from the group said at the time.

Turkey seeks life jail terms for Cumhuriyet journalists
Read More »

Fourteen staffers from Cumhuriyet - one of the few remaining voices critical of the Turkish government - were sentenced last April to jail terms of as long as eight years and one month on charges of terrorism and supporting US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who the government blames for organising a 2016 attempted coup.

Gulen denies any involvement in the coup attempt.

All the defendants, some of whom were imprisoned for the duration of the trial, had been released pending an appeals process. In February, another court rejected their appeals.

All of the accused have denied the charges against them and argue that the case is political and aimed at silencing opposition voices.

Tora Pekin, a lawyer for the defendants, said during a news conference on Monday that the appeals court had not granted their request for a hearing ahead of deciding whether to uphold the sentences.

Abbas Yalcin, another lawyer, said they had requested the sentences be suspended and were waiting for the request to be evaluated by the court.

The controversial Cumhuriyet case sparked criticism over the state of press freedom in Turkey.

Cumhuriyet, the country's oldest daily, founded in 1924, is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned Turkey's "disgraceful" persecution of the former staff members.

"We are appalled to see these leading figures being thrown in prison again," RSF's Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu said in a statement. 

"This is the culmination of ruthless political vengeance that highlights the collapse of the rule of law," he added.

The daily has often had troubles with government authorities, with former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fleeing to Germany after being convicted in 2016 for an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to militant groups in Syria.

Since the failed coup, more than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, while about 150,000 civil servants and military personnel have been sacked or suspended from their jobs. Widespread operations and arrests are still routine.