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Pre-trial detention extended for Cumhuriyet journalists despite demonstrations

13 September 2017

The International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ-EFJ) condemn the court’s decision to maintain the six Cumhuriyet journalists and media workers in pre-trial detention, after a 13-hour long hearing at Silivri prison, on 11 September 2017. 

The court ordered their detention despite clear demonstration by the defendants’ lawyers that the accusations of "without being a member of that organisation, spreading propaganda on behalf of an illegal terrorist organisation" were completely baseless.

An international delegation including the IFJ-EFJ, IPI, PEN International, Norsk PEN, PEN Vlaanderen, RSF, foreign consulate representatives, foreign press correspondents and MEP Rebecca Harms attended the hearing and shared solidarity messages with all the defendants.

Around 400 individuals – including 130 lawyers, 15 member of Turkish parliament and trade union representatives from TGS, DISK-Basin Is, TGC – were allowed to enter the courtroom while a similar number of people were kept outside because of the lack of space.

Following the 6th hearing which started at 9:00, the court ruled at 23:40 – after hearing seven witnessess, an IT expert, lawyers and defendants – in an interim decision that Akın Atalay, Ahmet Şık, Kemal Aydoğdu, Emre İper, Kadri Gürsel and Murat Sabuncu must remain under arrest until the next hearing scheduled for 25 September 2017 at 15:30.

One of the judges has expressed a dissenting opinion to release Kadri Gürsel on probation but the majority of the court was in favor of prolonging his pre-trial detention. These journalists have been in captivity for more than 300 days.

The ruling was motivated by the fact that three witnesses are still to be interrogated and the expert report to be delivered based on examining journalists' phones. The court has also asked journalists to share their passwords to get access to some protected communications despite the the fact that they demonstrated and detailed all their contents during the hearing. Questions of the court were all related to the editorial line of the newspaper, the system to edit the titles of articles before publication, the criteria to hire new journalists, the procedure to control correspondents reports and the internal decision mechanism between the private company and the foundation running the newspaper.

Along with many other international organisations, the IFJ and the EFJ went to Istanbul on Monday 11 September to monitor the trial.

Following the ruling, an IFJ/EFJ representative said:

"Defendants imprisoned have been held for months in pre-trial detention on baseless evidence. The independence of the judiciary is clearly a main concern for journalists. It seems that you can deliver the best defense arguments, the judges are not taking them into consideration and are continuing to issue the same decisions. The courage and the professionalism of our colleagues is amazing in such a chaotic situation! They should be released immediately and all charges should be dropped."

In addition, both Federations welcomed the statement of Harlem Désir, OSCE representative on freedom of the media and David Kaye, United Nations special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, calling on Turkey to release journalists from prison and remove restrictions on media freedom.

The two mandate holders said:

"We have repeatedly urged Turkey to drop charges against the Cumhuriyet journalists and executives. They must be released immediately, together with all journalists in prison in the country."
"Freedom of expression is not a right that may only be exercised when deemed convenient by those in power."

Charges against defendants include "helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member" and "employment-related abuse of trust".

The next hearing will take place at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse on 25 September.

Tags: , turkey, efj, ifj, solidarity, journalists detained