Mar 08 2018

‘Chilling’ Turkish trial slammed by press groups

Criminal proceedings in Turkey against reporters and other staff at the main opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper is drawing great concern from international media groups as their trial draws to a close.

The defendants, who include journalists Ahmet Şık, Murat Sabuncu and Akin Atalay, are facing terrorism charges based primarily on the misreading of articles in the newspaper and insignificant contacts between journalists and sources, Amnesty International ARTICLE 19, European Centre for Press and Media Freedom, PEN and Reporters Without Borders said in a joint statement.

The trial is due to resume on Friday and many international observers will be present.

“This trial is a chilling illustration of the steep deterioration of freedom of expression and the rule of law in Turkey since the attempted coup of July 2016,” the groups said. The three “have been held in pre-trial detention for over a year now on baseless charges and not a shred of credible evidence has been provided to prove their guilt. This is punishment of the very essence of journalism.”

Turkey has launched a crackdown against dissent of the government, while includes the arrest of tens of thousands of people since the coup attempt, heightening concerns in Europe and the United States about the country’s authoritarian path under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The EU has frozen membership talks with Turkey citing the crackdown.

The detained mostly include suspected members of the Fethullah Gülen movement, blamed for the coup, and opposition media, intellectuals, rights defenders and leftist activists. Almost all are being interned on terrorism charges and court proceedings are slow.

“International observers have repeatedly stressed the lack of independence and impartiality of the court in the case,” the groups said. “Defence lawyers have been excluded from hearings without proper justification. Ahmet Şık was also expelled from the court while attempting to deliver his defence statement.”

Seventeen journalists, lawyers and executives from the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper are facing terrorism charges.

Şık is accused of spreading propaganda for a range of proscribed groups, some of them bitter opponents of each other. From the separatist Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), to the far-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ), Şık supported them all, prosecutors say.

It is a bitter irony that Şık is accused of supporting FETÖ, the government’s name for the Gülen movement. Prosecutors linked to Gülen jailed Şık in 2011 after he wrote a book called “The Imam’s Army”, describing how Gülenists had infiltrated the ranks of the police.