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16 March

Prosecutor demands prison sentences for Cumhuriyet journalists

14 members of the Cumhuriyet staff, incl. Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık and Kadri Gürsel face prison terms up to 15 years. Akın Atalay not released

A prosecutor demanded prison sentences for 14 members of the staff of daily Cumhuriyet at the 7th hearing of the trial overseen by the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul. At the hearing held in Silivri o 16 March 2018, the Court ruled for the continuation of the detention of Akın Atalay, the chairman of the newspaper’s executive board pending the verdict of the trial. The defendants will submit their final defense statements against the prosecutor’s closing arguments at the next hearing, which will be held over four days between April 24 and 27.
 
In his closing argument, the prosecutor demanded the conviction of 13 members of the Cumhuriyet staff on charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member.”
 
Those defendants, who face between 7,5 and 15 years in prison, include Atalay, Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, members of the newspaper’s executive board Önder Çelik and Orhan Erinç, editorial advisor and columnist Kadri Gürsel, columnists Aydın Engin, Hikmet Çetinkaya and Hakan Kara, senior reporter Ahmet Şık, ombusdman Güray Öz, cartoonist Musa Kart and the daily’s attorneys Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör.  Sabuncu and Şık, who have been imprisoned for nearly 500 days, were released on March 9 after the previous hearing of the case.
 
The prosecutor also demanded the conviction of Emre İper, an accountant for the newspaper, on propaganda charges. İper, who was accused of communicating via ByLock – an encrypted messaging application allegedly used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen movement – was released after his name appeared on a list of people who had been erroneously detected as ByLock users.
 
The prosecutor demanded that charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member” leveled against Cumhuriyet’s book supplement editor Turhan Günay and chief accountants Günseli Özaltay and Bülent Yener to be dropped. He also asked the Cumhuriyet’s executive board members to be acquitted from charges of “professional misconduct.”
 
The prosecutor is also seeking the conviction of Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, purported to be the owner of the Twitter account “Jeansbiri,” on charges of “administrating a terrorist organization.” Aydoğdu, whose case was merged with the Cumhuriyet trial during the prosecution phase is not a staff member of the newspaper and remains in prison.
 
Can Dündar, the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief, and İlhan Tanır, the newspaper’s former Washington correspondent, are also on trial in the case,but have not appeared in court and an arrest warrant was issued for both journalists.
 
 
Atalay slams prosecutor’s “editorial policy” accusations
 
In his closing argument, the prosecutor said Cumhuriyet was not on trial for “individual news stories” but for its “editorial policy.”
 
“It is understood that, contrary to what defendants have said, Cumhuriyet has had an editorial policy that supported the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union], DHKP/C [Revolutionary People's Liberation Army/Front] and FETÖ [Fethullahist Terror Organization – the name given by the government to Fethullah Gülen’s network],” the prosecutor said.
 
In his statement to the court, Akın Atalay said the newspaper’s editorial policy was not the prosecutors’ business. “Are we going to ask you, get permission from you? Since when prosecutors began to decide the editorial policy of newspapers! If you don’t like the paper’s editorial policy, don’t buy it and don’t read it,” Atalay said.
 
Cumhuriyet is on trial because the government is disturbed by the newspaper’s independence, Atalay also stated. “This is what is called to account and that is what we are paying for,” he said. 
 
While Sabuncu and Şık were released on March 9, the court ordered Atalay to remain in detention and the chief judge explained this decision by saying, “The captain is the last person to abandon the ship.’’ Other defendants in the case who had been remanded in pre-trial detention were released in previous hearings.
 
Following their release, both Murat Sabuncu and Ahmet Şık called for the continuation of solidarity with the journalists, academics and lawyers who are still in prison in Turkey.
 
 

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