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Turkish court upholds terrorism convictions of opposition journalists

Staff from the Cumhuriyet newspaper were convicted last year on charges of supporting cleric blamed for 2016 coup attempt
Cumhuriyet newspaper is one of the last remaining newspapers that is openly critical of the Erdogan government (AFP)

A Turkish appeals court has upheld the conviction of 14 members of staff who work for an opposition newspaper, in a case that has raised further concern over the state of press freedom in the country.

The journalists and executives from Cumhuriyet were convicted last year on charges of terrorism and supporting US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for organising the 2016 attempted coup. They continue to deny the charges.

The staff were given multiple sentences for "aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member" but they remained free pending trial. 

Cumhuriyet said on Tuesday that the court had ruled the original trial was lawful and approved the convictions against its employees. 

The newspaper is one of the last remaining outlets that is openly critical of the Erdogan government. 

Among the staff who were arrested were journalists Hakan Kara and Guray Oz, cartoonist Musa Kart, lawyer Mustafa Kemal Gungor, board member Onder Celik, and accountant Emre Iper, who will return to prison to complete their sentences.

Turkish law states that sentences under five years cannot be further appealed.

"The government, which is expected to produce solutions for the crises that we are going through, has spoken: lock the cartoonist up again!" Kart wrote on Twitter.

"Yes it's time for me to get going, jail is on the horizon. Take care...," he added.

"Thankfully I had completed the final edits to my novel. We will not be seeing each other for a while. Bye," tweeted Guray Oz, the readers' ombudsman for Cumhuriyet.

Latest Gulen arrests

Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, prominent journalist Ahmet Sik, Hikmet Cetinkaya, Orhan Erinc, Akin Atalay and Aydin Engin, all jailed for more than five years, will have to return to prison pending their appeal to a higher court, the paper added.

Journalist Kadri Gursel and lawyer Bulent Utku will not go back to jail due to time already served.

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 of people suspected of ties to Gulen's movement are still routine.

Authorities on Tuesday ordered the arrest of 311 people, including 53 military personnel, in three separate operations across Turkey, the Istanbul prosecutor's office said in a statement.