They were charged with membership in a terror organization, violating the Turkish Constitution.
Istanbul, Turkey .- A court in Istanbul convicted six journalists of terror-related charges Friday in a case that heightened concerns over the freedom of expression and media rights in Turkey. The staff members of a now-defunct newspaper received lengthy prison sentences.
However, the court acquitted five other former journalists for Zaman, a newspaper which was close to a U.S.-based cleric whom Turkey blames for a failed military coup. The cleric, Fethullah Gulen, denies masterminding the 2016 coup attempt.
The 11 defendants were arrested shortly after the coup. They were charged with membership in a terror organization, violating the Turkish Constitution, attempting to overthrow the government and other crimes. The court convicted the six of membership in an armed terror organization, but dropped the other charges.
“(The) fact that the legitímate work of journalists has not been recognized before the court today is a clear message that journalists will feel for a while,” Erol Onderoglu of the media rights group Reporters without Borders told The Associated Press.
Columnist Mumtazer Turkone and Zaman’s Ankara bureau chief, Mustafa Onal, were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Journalist Ibrahim Karayegen received nine years, while columnists Ali Bulac, Sahin Alpay and Ahmet Turan Alkan each received over eight years.
They were expected to appeal their convictions. The court ruled that Turkone and Onal would remain imprisoned pending their appeals.
“Unfortunately, the judiciary in Turkey is maybe having its worst days in its history. It’s under heavy political pressure,” lawyer Faruk Zorba, who represented Alkan, told the AP outside the courthouse.
“The (Gulen) organization is a religious structure in its basis, but the defendants on trial here are mostly people who’ve espoused a secular lifestyle,” he said.