Istanbul court re-convicts 12 ex-staff of Cumhuriyet

An Istanbul court has confirmed the convictions against 12 former employees of Cumhuriyet, despite their sentences having been overturned by a higher court in September. The Court of Cassation, Turkey's high court of appeals, had in September overturned the sentences and freed the former journalists pending retrial. But in a ruling on Nov. 21, the lower court ignored that decision and reconfirmed the original sentences, with the exception of one journalist – Kadri Gürsel – who was acquitted.

Duvar English

The Istanbul 27th High Criminal Court upheld its conviction of 12 former employees of the Cumhuriyet newspaper despite a higher court ruling.

The court acquitted a 13th defendant, journalist Kadri Gürsel, due to a ruling by the Constitutional Court, Turkey's highest.

In a case that drew global outrage over press freedom in Turkey, 14 employees of Cumhuriyet - one of the few remaining newspapers critical of the government - were sentenced in April 2018 to various jail terms on terrorism charges. 

They were accused of supporting the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) as well as the network of U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen, who Ankara says organized the failed coup attempt of July 2016.  

The Cumhuriyet staff have been in and out of jail for the duration of their trials. The 14th defendant, Cumhuriyet accountant Emre İper, was released last month and his case is still under court review. 

The Court of Cassation, Turkey's high court of appeals, had ruled in September for the 13 defendants to be acquitted, with the exception of journalist and politician Ahmet Şık. The court said Şık should be tried for a different crime. 

The case of the 12 defendants will now be re-evaluated by the Court of Cassation.

"With the Court of Cassation ruling (in September), we thought this endless arbitrariness and injustice were ending. But we understood in court today that it wasn't so," Tora Pekin, a lawyer for Cumhuriyet, was quoted as saying by Reuters. 

International Press Institute (IPI) -- a global organization dedicated to the protection of press freedom -- said they were “pleased” to see that their executive board member Gürsel was acquitted in the re-trial on Nov. 21.

“We're pleased to see our Exec. Board member @KadriGursel acquitted today in #Cumhuriyet retrial. Yet lower court's decision to disregard Supreme Court ruling and uphold convictions of other defendants confirms again breakdown of rule of law in #Turkey,” the IPI wrote on Twitter.

The IPI along with other seven international press freedom organizations highlighted the continued jailing of over 120 journalists in Turkey as “a deep stain on the country’s human rights record” at the launch of a joint report in Brussels on Nov. 19.

“Turkey must urgently revise all anti-terror and defamation laws, repeatedly abused to silence critical press. In particular it must end the deliberate conflation of public criticism with terrorism propaganda,” said their report.