Turkey: Former journalists re-convicted despite higher court ruling

Representative photo Photograph:( Zee News Network )

WION Web Team Istanbul, Turkey Nov 21, 2019, 10.22 PM (IST)

A Turkish court overturned higher court verdict and re-convicted journalists from Turkey's oldest newspaper. 

The rights groups called the judgment against 12 former scribes from Cumhuriyet "scandalous". The verdict also reaffirms the crackdown on media freedom under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 

The journalists were convicted for their support through their work to organisations that Turkey recognize as terrorist groups and their role in the failed coup in 2016. They were given jail term ranging from two and a half years to more than eight years. However, the Supreme Court overturned the decision in September. 

"Once again a Turkish court has defied the decision of the higher court. Once again, journalism is the victim in this case," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, of Human Rights Watch, after the verdict. 

Turkey's Constitutional Court said in May that the verdict against two former scribes: Gursel and Murat Aksoy, violates the principles of freedom of speech and expression. 

Responding on the judgment, Cumhuriyet's former lawyer Bulent Utku said that the case was "political from the beginning, and aimed at revenge."

Over the years, Turkish media was brought under the control of Erdogan's allies. The International Press Institute, a global watchdog, released a report on Tuesday which claimed that over 100 journalists are still being jailed in Turkey following the failed coup. The report also said that the situation of journalists have not improved in Turkey since the two-year emergency that was lifted last year. 

Ankara says that the suspensions, detentions and sackings in 2016 were needed to safeguard national security, given that Turkey has faced attacks from Kurdish, Islamist and far-left militants. However, critics believe that Erdogan used failed coup as a pretext to clamp down on dissent and strengthen his authoritarian rule. 

Cumhuriyet, founded in 1924, is one of Turkey's rare media organisations that is run by an independent foundation. Most of the media houses in Turkey are run by business tycoons. 

In 2016, Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar fled to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article claiming that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria. 

Turkey is currently ranked 157 out of 180 countries for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

(with inputs from AFP and Reuters)