Turkish appeals court prosecutors demand acquittal of Cumhuriyet trial defendants

The prosecutor’s office of the Turkish appeals court said in its opinion on the prison sentences of journalists and executives that formerly worked for the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper that 12 of the trial’s defendants should be acquitted, Habertürk news site reported on Thursday. 

Some 15 member of the former staff of Cumhuriyet were handed long prison sentences in April, 2018 in the Cumhuriyet trials, in which the prosecutors claimed the newspaper aided the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed Kurdish group designated as a terrorist organisation in Turkey, and the Gülen movement, followers of an Islamist preacher accused of plotting the failed July 2016 coup attempt.

The trials provoked outrage from international rights groups, which accused the Turkish government of attempting to suppress free speech from a newspaper that had taken a strong, critical stance.

Journalists Ahmet Şık and Aydın Engin and the newspapers former editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu received seven-and-a-half-year sentences. Journalists Hikmet Çetinkaya and Orhan Erinç received six years and six months each, while cartoonist Musa Kart and four other Cumhuriyet staff, Güray Öz, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Hakan Kara and Önder Çelik received 45-month sentences. 

Columnist Kadri Gürsel was handed a 30-month sentence, while the court decided to handle files of former editor in chief Can Dundar and Cumhuriyet's former Washington reporter Ilhan Tanir separately since they were not in Turkey. 

All the defendants in Turkey were held in pre-trial detention and were released at different stages of the trial.

In its opinion submitted to a criminal appeals court, the prosecutors said that 12 defendants should be acquitted. They said the the three-year one month and 15 days sentence of Yunus Emre İper over terror propaganda and the 10-year sentence of Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu over membership to Gülen movement should be upheld. 

The prosecutors said the seven years and six months sentence for Ahmet Şık should be reversed. The journalist, who at the moment is a deputy of the predominantly Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), should be sentenced over terror propaganda and insulting the Turkish instead, the prosecutors said.