17 Turkish Cumhuriyet journalists, executives face terrorism trial in Istanbul

Seventeen employees of a Turkish opposition newspaper are about to go on trial on charges of aiding a terrorist organisation

Cumhuriyet faces charges including preparing 'violent and divisive news'
Cumhuriyet faces charges including preparing 'violent and divisive news'

Seventeen directors and journalists from one of Turkey's most respected opposition newspapers go on trial today after spending over eight months behind bars in a case which has raised new alarm over press freedoms under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Cumhuriyet (Republic) was set up in 1924 and is Turkey's oldest mainstream national title.

A total of 17 staff of the newspaper - including writers, cartoonists and executives - will go on trial at the imposing palace of justice in Istanbul.

The suspects were detained from October last year under the state of emergency implemented after the 15 July failed coup, blamed on the United States-based preacher Fethullah Gülen.

If found guilty, their sentence could be up to 43 years in jail.

The charges include accusations that the newspaper’s journalists aided the separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the Fethullah Gülen movement, as well as complaints of irregularities in the elections of the organisation’s board of executives.

Rights activists say the trial is an assault on freedom of expression and the accusations are absurd, because Cumhuriyet, the country’s newspaper of record that is committed to secularism, has long warned of the dangers of the Gülen movement, which itself has long been at odds with the PKK.

They argue that the other charges are an attempt at replacing the newspaper’s board of directors with government appointees more pliable to the ruling party’s influence.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 166 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested under the state of emergency.

Erdogan, however, insisted in an interview earlier this month there were just "two real journalists" behind bars in Turkey.

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