ISTANBUL: An Istanbul court on Monday ordered the release of leading Turkish journalist Kadri Gursel in the controversial trial of staff from the Cumhuriyet opposition newspaper but ruled that four other detained suspects must stay in jail.
The judge ruled that Gursel, one of Turkey’s most respected journalists, could go free after 11 months in jail though he remains on trial on charges of links to terror groups, an AFP correspondent said. The trial of the staff from Cumhuriyet, a paper which has been deeply critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was adjourned until October 31.
Gursel, a journalist for three decades, was released from the Silivri jail outside Istanbul Monday night after formalities were completed, and was greeted by his relatives and colleagues.
Looking exhausted, Gursel said: “There is nothing to celebrate because a number of Cumhuriyet journalists are facing unfair and baseless accusations. Their freedoms have been taken away.”
The veteran journalist said he would continue to write despite the tough media environment. “Every journalist would like to write as long as the conditions allow them. I will, of course, continue to write,” Gursel said.
“A journalist should push his limits in order to remain a journalist,” he said.
His wife Nazire said she had a ‘bittersweet’ feeling as there were still journalists in prison. “I cannot say that justice has been delivered today,” she told reporters.
“Many blast this case as a theatre play but it would be an insult to the theatre.”
In a case that has caused an international outcry, 17 Cumhuriyet staff members are charged with supporting through their coverage three groups that Turkey considers terror groups.
These are the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher whom Ankara accuses of ordering last year’s coup attempt. The Turkish government calls the movement the Fethullah Terror Group (FETO).
Supporters of the paper say it has always taken a tough line against the three organisations and is being punished for being one of the few opposition voices in the Turkish media.
“I worked with them. I know their past. These colleagues cannot be terrorists, those friends cannot be FETO,” defence witness Alev Coskun, a board member of the Cumhuriyet foundation and influential writer, told the court.
He also pointed to tensions at the newspaper under the editorship of Can Dundar, who in 2015 broke an explosive story claiming Turkey was sending arms to Syria, and who now lives in exile in Germany.
“This is a serious newspaper. It is not a newspaper where Can Dundar played games,” Coskun said.
Those remaining under arrest include the paper’s chairman Akin Atalay and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, who like Gursel have been held behind bars for 330 days.
Investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, who has been held for 269 days, as well as accountant Emre Iper, detained for 173 days, also remain under arrest. Sik wrote a book exposing the past ties of members of the Turkish elite to the Gulen movement.
Also on trial in the case is a teacher, Ahmet Kemal Aydogdu, who maintained a popular Twitter account. He is accused of being a terror group leader, and although his case is unrelated to the one against Cumhuriyet it has been merged into the same trial.
Earlier, about 200 people gathered outside the Istanbul courthouse, carrying portraits of the journalists and banners with slogans including “Freedom for journalists” and “Independent press cannot be silenced”.
According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 171 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested under the state of emergency imposed after the coup attempt on July 15, 2016.
The country ranks 155 out of 180 on the latest world press freedom index by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
“We cannot talk about justice in a country where there is no judiciary,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, an MP with the opposition Republican People’s Party.
“Our friend Kadri’s release doesn’t mean that there is justice,” he said.