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Dear IPI members, colleagues and friends,

As you might know, I was detained and jailed in Istanbul’s infamous Silivri prison together with eight other colleagues from the Cumhuriyet daily newspaper at the end of last October. This was an arbitrary political operation aiming at silencing the newspaper for which I was writing columns and serving as editorial adviser.

I’m finally released from jail after having being kept captive for 11 months. It’s great to join again the camaraderie of global defenders of press freedom. Typing this letter to reach you directly is a wonderful feeling.

We, the Cumhuriyet defendants, waited for five-and-a-half months to see the indictment finally written and delivered. We then waited another three-and-a-half months to appear before the court to disprove and bring down all the nonsense and fallacy that was put together as “proof” in this text, which doesn’t deserve to be called a “judicial document”. On the contrary, this was a “mockument”.

Our right to have a fair trial was already denied. Our lengthy detention had become punishment without conviction.

Then, it took another two months for me to undeniably expose that all of the nonsense put in this so-called indictment to support the accusations against me had nothing to do with reality.

I was accused of taking part in the so-called crime of “bringing the editorial line of a newspaper close to that of many terror organisations at once”, even though I was the newspaper’s editorial adviser for only 34 days before my incarceration.

I was also accused of helping a terrorist organisation by merely having received SMS messages from its alleged members – messages that went unanswered – and of directly and openly taking aim at the personality of the president and allegedly attempting to portray Turkey as an authoritarian state for having written a column in which I criticised the president’s authoritarian anti-tobacco position.

This legal process against us was a powerful indicator that Turkey was heading towards authoritarian rule, as I said in my defence before the court.

In sum, I’m accused of deliberately and consciously helping a terrorist organisation without being its member and the prosecutor is seeking a 15-year prison sentence. The bitter irony is that it’s well known that I’ve always been an open critic of this organisation – the Gülenists or “FETO”, as the political power dubbed it following the definitive collapse of their de facto coalition at the end of 2013.

This case has criminalised headlines, news stories, columns and also tweets: in sum, journalism itself. Its aim is clear – muzzling and then exterminating what remains of independent journalism in Turkey, and intimidating all media members who are not yet totally aligned with the political power.

IPI Board Member Kadri Gürsel speaks to the media in the early hours of Sept. 26, 2017 outside a gate to the Silivri prison complex on the western edge of Istanbul after his release from prison. Photo: IPI

The pressure of the international community of media freedom organisations and particularly that of IPI played an important role in my release from prison on Sept. 25 and before that in the release of seven other jailed journalists and administrators of Cumhuriyet on July 28 at the end of first hearings in the trial.

They spent nine months in prison; I was kept there 11 months. The injustice is done.

But our oppressors have also paid a price for their arbitrary, unjust and unfair jailing of independent and critical journalists. What was left of their credibility, legitimacy and morality has been bitterly damaged by this fact: legitimate forces of international solidarity in defence of media freedom came together to raise their voices against our jailers, to emphasise that we were true journalists and not terrorists. And they kept doing this with stamina and determination.

Particularly you, IPI members, you have shown to the enemies of media freedom that they can’t get away with jailing journalists. You have shown that this has a moral and political cost at an international level.

I’m certain that your support will grow stronger as the day of the next hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial, Oct. 31, approaches. Four more members of the Cumhuriyet newspaper are yet to be released from prison. They are Akın Atalay (executive chair of the Cumhuriyet Foundation), Murat Sabuncu (Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief and a fellow IPI Member), Ahmet Şık (a senior reporter) and Emre İper (an accountant).

There are around 150 more journalists jailed in Turkey, far higher than any other country has. For this reason, we should pay particular attention to the rapid deterioration of media freedom there.

I’m grateful for your determined support to our case.

I have to express how delighted I was when I first heard that John [Yearwood, IPI Executive Board chair] visited Cumhuriyet’s office after we were taken into custody, and then when my eyes saw Barbara [Trionfi, IPI executive director], Markus [Spillmann, IPI Executive Board vice-chair], Steven [Ellis, IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications] and our national committee members Emre [Kizilkaya], Gülsin [Harman] and İpek [Yezdani] at the hearings.

I’m proud to be one of you.

You all have my deepest respect and admiration.

Kadri Gürsel