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Week of July 24, 2017

Journalism on trial, and it is a total mess
"Surreal even by its own standards"

The Turkish government’s assault on newspaper Cumhuriyet showed its base desire as pre-trial hearings were conducted last week. Seventeen of the newspaper’s reporters, editors and administrators have been charged, eleven detained nine months since arrest. The hearings ended (July 28) with the Istanbul Court for Serious Crimes releasing seven persons pending trial, five remaining in jail and two who managed to flee the country, including former chief editor Can Dündar, being tried in absentia. Five others facing charges had not been jailed. Those released have been banned from travel and must attend another hearing sometime in August. The trial will resume in September.

The Cumhuriyet employees and their lawyers were afforded the opportunity during the five days to refute charges, which include “membership of an armed terrorist organization,” “aiding an armed terrorist organization while not being a member of it” and "employment-related abuse of trust,” reported reliably pro-government daily Hurriyet (July 28).  Investigative reporter Ahmet Sik ripped criticism at the entire process. “Some members of the judiciary in Turkey have become grave diggers in their own right,” he blasted, quoted by Turkish online news platform onedio.com (July 28). “Journalism is not a crime. It is a common feature of totalitarian regimes to blame journalistic activities. I am proud to be guilty before every political power and judge of every period because of my professional activities.” Mr. Sik remains in jail and prosecutors moved to file new charges after his blunt intervention. (See more about media in Turkey here)

The view of all this from outside Turkey has been consistent from the start. “Surreal even by its own standards,” said the Economist (July 28). French left-leaning newspaper Libération published a six-page section with Cumhuriyet writers last week (July 24). “It is difficult to dismiss arguments that this case is another politically motivated effort to criminalize journalism,” said Reporters sans Frontieres (July 28), mirroring the view of international media and press freedom watchers. Irony notwithstanding, the United States Department of State issued a statement calling for the Cumhuriyet employees to be released and their jailing ”arbitrary.” (See more about press/media freedom here)

Inside Turkey a few significant voices are, cautiously, raising questions. “I want my colleagues to have their freedom soon,” said conservative Hurriyet columnist Abdülkadir Selvi to CNN Türk (July 29). “Is this the fight against (terrorism)? These are people who are doing journalism.” Former Turkish president Abdullah Gul said the release of all Cumhuriyet employees pending trial “would be more accurate.”

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