Middle East

Trial of Turkey opposition newspaper staff resumes

The controversial trial of staff from Turkey's main opposition newspaper accused of terror links resumed on Monday, in a case which has raised alarm over press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Seventeen current and former writers, cartoonists and executives from Cumhuriyet ("Republic") are accused of supporting three "armed terrorist organisations".

They face up to 43 years in prison and four of them are already in jail.

Their supporters say the charges are absurd and the daily says the trial is an attempt to silence one of the last independent newspapers in Turkey.

Dozens of supporters gathered outside the court in Istanbul on Monday, holding signs saying "You are not alone, we are not alone", "Justice for all" and "Freedom for all journalists".

Some held Monday's Cumhuriyet whose front page read "Justice immediately".

The daily is fiercely critical of Erdogan and has run front page stories that have angered the president.

"This trial is a symbol of the attempt to silence freedom of expression in Turkey. It is a symbol of pressure on journalists," Gulendam San Karabulutlar, a defence lawyer, told AFP before the trial began.

The 17 are charged with supporting through their coverage three organisations Turkey views as terror groups – the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen blamed by Ankara for last year's attempted putsch.

Those already in jail include the paper's chairman Akin Atalay and editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, imprisoned for 421 days, as well as investigative reporter Ahmet Sik, in prison for 360 days. Accountant Emre Iper has been imprisoned for 263 days.

Lauded by his peers, Sik wrote a book exposing former ties of members of the Turkish elite to the Gulen movement, which Ankara argues infiltrated state institutions.

The trial has raised concern in Western capitals after Turkish authorities arrested dozens of journalists after the failed coup as part of its crackdown on alleged threats to the state. In total, more than 55,000 people have been arrested.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 170 journalists behind bars in Turkey, most of whom were arrested under the state of emergency in place since July 2016.

Turkey is ranked 151st of 180 countries in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders.

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