|The News Line: Feature
Saturday, 23 February 2019
Appeal Court upholds jail sentences for Turkish journalists!
OVER 100 lawyers and campaigners on Thursday demonstrated outside Istanbul’s main courthouse to protest against an appeal court’s upholding the convictions of former journalists and executives from opposition daily Cumhuriyet.
|Journalists issuing a press release in front of the Courthouse on Tuesday after the court confirmed jail sentences on 14 Cumhuriyet staff
The court on Tuesday confirmed jail sentences against 14 former Cumhuriyet staff including prominent journalists who are charged with ‘aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member’.
They had been free pending the appeals, but after the court verdict eight of them would have to go back to prison and the remaining six – who were given sentences of more than five years, have the option of appealing further to the Supreme Court.
The controversial case against Cumhuriyet – one of the few remaining dailies opposing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – has sparked concerns over the state of free press in Turkey. Tora Pekin, a lawyer in the Cumhuriyet case, said the latest ruling meant ‘the end of the free press’ in Turkey, in an address to the crowd.
‘It is the time to remember what we said from the very beginning of the case: the ruling delivered is the end of the free press that no longer exists even on paper,’ he said. Veteran journalist Kadri Gursel and lawyer Bulent Utku, who were initially supposed to remain free given their time served, will also have to go back to prison in line with the laws, Pekin said.
‘Gursel is supposed to remain in prison for one or two days to fill the remaining term,’ Pekin said, adding that the eight were due to return to jail within a week after an arrest warrant.
The defendants – including journalists, a cartoonist, executives and accountants – were sentenced in April to prison terms between four and eight years ‘on charges of acting on behalf of a terrorist group without being members’. The Third Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice reviewed and upheld each of these sentences on Tuesday.
In Turkey, sentences less than five years cannot be overturned once they are upheld by an appellate court, meaning that eight of the defendants will now serve out their terms in prison. The remaining defendants with longer sentences plan to appeal to Turkey’s Supreme Court.
The Cumhuriyet staff are among more than 77,000 people who have been jailed following a failed 2016 coup against Erdogan as the Turkish government has moved to curtail opposition.
Amnesty International condemned the decision as an attack on the free press. The prosecution of scores of journalists and other media workers is an ongoing affront to press freedom and to justice. By using the courts to increase their stranglehold on the media, the authorities have once again displayed the ugly side of Turkey’s broken judicial system. This should ring alarm bells for anyone who cares about freedom of expression.
Turkey is currently ranked 157th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2018 Press Freedom Index. Meanwhile, Turkey will begin drilling for oil and gas near Cyprus in coming days, state-owned news agency Anadolu reported Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu saying on Thursday, a move that could stoke tensions with neighbouring Cyprus and Greece.
Turkey and the internationally recognised Greek Cypriot government have overlapping claims of jurisdiction for offshore oil and gas research in the eastern Mediterranean, a region thought to be rich in natural gas.
‘In the coming days we will start drilling with two ships around Cyprus,’ Cavusoglu was quoted as saying in a speech to a business conference in western Turkey’s Aydin province.
‘Let those who come to the region from far away, and their companies, see that nothing can be done in that region without us. Nothing at all can be done in the Mediterranean without Turkey. We will not allow that,’ Cavusoglu said.
Turkey launched its first drillship ‘Fatih’ in October to drill off the coast of Turkey’s southern Antalya province. It said a second ship that it purchased would operate in the Black Sea, but was diverted to the Cyprus area.
Breakaway north Cyprus, which is supported by Turkey, says any offshore wealth also belongs to them, as partners in the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.
The island was divided in 1974 after a Turkish invasion triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Countless peacemaking endeavours have failed, and offshore wealth has increasingly complicated peace negotiations, with Greek Cypriots saying the matter is not up for discussion.
• Turkey has denounced as ‘unacceptable’ a draft report by a key European Parliament committee that calls for the suspension of negotiations with Ankara for accession to the European Union (EU). In a draft advisory report, the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee called on the European Commission and EU member states to formally suspend years-long accession talks with Turkey, citing numerous alleged human rights violations in the country as well as the conduct of its judiciary system.
The report is expected to be voted on by the entire European Parliament in mid-March.
‘The call in the draft report – which is not legally binding and bears only the status of an advisory decision – to officially suspend our country’s accession negotiations with the EU is absolutely unacceptable,’ Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement on Wednesday.
Aksoy said the draft report exemplified the 28-member bloc’s biased attitude toward Turkey, adding that Ankara would push for its amendment. ‘We expect the necessary changes to be made for a more realistic, unbiased, and encouraging final report, which will be accepted in March at the European Parliament’s general assembly,’ the official said, stressing that, ‘Only such a report will be taken into consideration by our country.’
The draft advisory report censured Ankara for allegedly undermining human rights and civil liberties, also accusing the Turkish government of influencing the judiciary and engaging in territorial disputes with neighbouring countries.
Committee members said that such policies, in combination with changes in the country’s governing system, had made Turkey’s accession to the EU impossible at this stage.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested in October last year that the EU was being insincere in its accession talks with Turkey. Relations between Turkey and the EU have been strained for several years, especially after the July 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan, which Ankara says was masterminded by US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen.
The EU has often criticised the crackdown and alleged attacks on freedom of speech in the wake of the botched putsch, in which tens of thousands of people, including journalists, were arrested. Ankara, in return, has accused Brussels of being inattentive to the security threats faced by Turkey.
The Turkish government has also rejected any offer of partnership with the EU that falls short of full membership. • Turkey has been hit by a strong earthquake, with witnesses reporting ‘terrifying’ and ‘terrible’ shaking as far away as Istanbul.
The earthquake registered 5.1 magnitude, with shaking felt in Western Turkey and parts of Greece on Thursday.
Istanbul, located hundreds of kilometres from the epicentre, was also rattled. One witness said on Twitter: ‘It was felt in Kusadasi, it was really terrifying. Hope the last one is not the quake before the big shock.’ Witnesses have recorded their experiences on earthquake-tracking website EMSC-CSEM. One said: ‘Very terrible.’
Another said: ‘It lasted for 30 seconds and was very fierce.’
A third said: ‘Everything in my home rattled.’ One resident of Karacabey, some 150 miles from the epicentre, said he did not experience strong shaking but did feel like he was ‘sitting on a boat in a wave’.
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