Four handed prison terms in pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem newspaper trial

The editorial board of now-defunct newspaper Özgür Gündem was sentenced to a total of 21 years in prison on terrorism charges. The daily was shut down with a state of emergency decree following the July 15, 2016 failed coup attempt.

Duvar English

A Turkish court handed jail sentences on Feb. 15 to four employees of a now-defunct pro-Kurdish newspaper on terrorism charges, a lawyer in the case said, describing the verdict as politically motivated.

Özgür Gündem newspaper was among more than 130 media outlets the government closed during a state of emergency it declared following a failed military coup in July 2016, in a crackdown whose scale alarmed Ankara's Western allies and rights groups.

Eren Keskin, a rights activist and the newspaper's co-editor-in-chief, along with two other Özgur Gündem officials, were each sentenced to six years and three months in jail for membership of a terrorist organization, lawyer Özcan Kılıç said. 

Zana Bilir Kaya, the other co-editor-in-chief, was sentenced to two years and one month for spreading terrorism propaganda, he said.

The charges against the four individuals are tools commonly used by the Turkish judiciary to prosecute critics of the government. 

Keskin has been a part of the human rights movement for 30 years and has been imprisoned multiple times for her beliefs, she said in a tweet following her conviction.

"But this is the first time I've been convicted of being a 'member of an armed organization.' Six years and three months. I'm not going anywhere. I'm right here," Keskin said. 

Some two dozen Özgür Gündem staff were detained in 2016 as part of an investigation into their alleged links to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Any relation to the Kurdish political movement has been antagonized by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) since the collapse of the peace process between the state and the PKK in 2015.

Lawyer Kılıç told Reuters he believed the Özgür Gündem verdict was political and harsher than in other similar cases, and that he would appeal it.

"The court gave a very harsh verdict. We thought it was related to the developments in the operation in northern Iraq. Courts are influenced by conflicts," he said.

Turkish officials said on Feb. 14 that PKK militants had executed 13 kidnapped Turks, including military, intelligence and police personnel, in a cave in northern Iraq amid a continuing military operation against the group.

Özgür Gündem had focused coverage on the PKK conflict in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast and long-faced investigations, fines and arrests.

The PKK took up arms against the Turkish state in 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.