The International Press Institute (IPI), a global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists for press freedom, welcomes the decision of Turkey’s Supreme Court of Cassation to toss out a lower court ruling and free five former journalists of the newspaper Cumhuriyet who were imprisoned on terrorism-related charges. The ruling also vacated the conviction of IPI Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel, who was serving the remainder of a two-and-a-half year sentence on probation. He currently remains under travel ban.
The court’s ruling, delivered on September 12, led to the immediate release of Hakan Kara, Mustafa Kemal Güngör, Güray Öz, Önder Çelik and cartoonist Musa Kart, who were serving out the remainder of their sentences. They had been charged with aiding and abetting the movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gülen whilst not being a member of that movement. Togther with Gürsel, all six defendants had been sentenced to less than five years in prison, which normally precludes the right of appeal to the Supreme Court of Cassation under Turkish law. All of the defendants will now receive a new hearing in the case.
Despite this positive development, Cumhuriyet’s former accountant, Emre İper, remains behind bars and journalist and Ahmet Şık, a former Cumhuriyet journalists who is now an MP, is set to be retried under a new set of serious charges.
“The decision of the Supreme Court of Cassation is a bright spot for press freedom in Turkey. However, it is just one instance. Press freedom and judicial independence continue to remain in crisis in the country. While this decision is significant, it does not make up for the personal damage that these journalists in this Cumhuriyet trial have suffered”, IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said. “We hope that all Cumhuriyet journalists will be acquitted in the retrial, and that the travel restrictions and other administrative measures imposed on them will be lifted.”