The International Press Institute (IPI) today joined other leading international free expression groups as well as international journalists and European Parliament members in observing the start of a major trial against journalists with Turkey’s last major critical newspaper.

The 17 journalists and executives with the secular daily Cumhuriyet – some of whom face up to 43 years in prison – have been charged with bogus terror-related offences.

The indictment in the case relies almost entirely on news reports and Twitter posts. IPI and other rights groups have rejected the charges as politically motivated in response to Cumhuriyet’s criticism of Turkey’s government.

IPI, together with international partners including the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), PEN International and its branches in Norway, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, and the Netherlands, the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ and IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), today renewed its call for authorities to release the journalists from prison and for the court to dismiss all charges.

Members of the European Parliament in attendance voiced deep concern over the state of media freedom in Turkey.
Gianni Pittella, leader of the S&D parliamentary group, and Rebecca Harms of the Greens both cited the trial as a worrying sign of the erosion of democracy and human rights.

Some of the most powerful testimonies today were given by the defendants themselves, with Cumhuriyet columnist and IPI Board Member Kadri Gürsel offering a moving defence of his and his colleagues’ right to practice independent journalism.

Other voices denouncing the proceedings included Akin Atalay, Cumhuriyet’s CEO and executive board chair, who faces up to 43 years in prison; Can Dündar, the paper’s former editor-in-chief, who now lives in exile in Germany, and is being tried in absentia; and Muratcan Sabuncu, son of accused Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu and who urged Europe today not to turn its back on Turkey.

Prominent cartoonist Musa Kart, who has worked for Cumhuriyet for 23 years, staunchly defended the role of satire and cartoons to promoting critical thinking, as Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI) noted:

The Cumhuriyet journalists will continue their defence in court tomorrow and throughout the week. International supporters will join their families in observing the proceedings and offering solidarity.