14 members of the newspaper’s staff, including Murat Sabuncu, Ahmet Şık and Kadri Gürsel face prison terms of up to 15 years. Akın Atalay not released
A prosecutor demanded prison sentences for 14 members of the staff of daily Cumhuriyet at the seventh hearing of the trial overseen by the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul.
At the March 16 hearing held in Silivri, the court ruled for the continuation of the detention of Akın Atalay, the chairman of the newspaper’s executive board pending the verdict of the trial. The defendants will present their final defense statements against the prosecutor’s closing arguments at the next hearing, which will be held over four days between April 24 and 27.
In his closing argument, the prosecutor requested that 13 members of the Cumhuriyet staff are convicted on charges of “aiding an armed organization without being its member.”
Those defendants who face between 7.5 and 15 years in prison, include Atalay, Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, members of the newspaper’s executive board Önder Çelik and Orhan Erinç, editorial advisor and columnist Kadri Gürsel, columnists Aydın Engin, Hikmet Çetinkaya and Hakan Kara, senior reporter Ahmet Şık, ombudsman Güray Öz, cartoonist Musa Kart and the daily’s attorneys Bülent Utku and Mustafa Kemal Güngör. Sabuncu and Şık were released at the end of the previous hearing on March 9 after nearly 500 days in pretrial detention in the Silivri Prison.
The prosecutor also demanded that Emre İper, an accountant for the newspaper, is convicted on propaganda charges. İper, who was accused of communicating via ByLock, an encrypted messaging application allegedly used by the members of the Fethullah Gülen movement, was released after his name appeared on a list of people who had been erroneously detected as ByLock users.
The prosecutor demanded that the charge of “aiding an armed organization without being its member,” leveled against Cumhuriyet’s book supplement editor Turhan Günay and chief accountants Günseli Özaltay and Bülent Yener is dropped. He also requested the acquittal of Cumhuriyet executive board members of “professional misconduct” charges.
The prosecutor is also seeking the conviction of Ahmet Kemal Aydoğdu, purported to be the owner of the Twitter account “Jeansbiri,” on charges of “leading a terrorist organization.” Aydoğdu, whose case was merged with the Cumhuriyet trial during the prosecution phase is not a staff member of the newspaper and remains in prison.
Can Dündar, the newspaper’s former editor-in-chief, and İlhan Tanır, the newspaper’s former Washington correspondent, are also on trial in the case, but have not appeared in court and an arrest warrant was issued against both journalists.
Atalay slams prosecutor’s “editorial policy” accusations
In his final opinion, the prosecutor said Cumhuriyet was not on trial for “individual news stories” but for its “editorial policy.”
“It is understood that, contrary to what defendants have said, Cumhuriyet has had an editorial policy that supported the PKK [Kurdistan Workers’ Party], KCK [Kurdistan Communities Union], DHKP/C [Revolutionary People’s Liberation Army/Front] and FETÖ [Fethullahist Terror Organization, the name given by the government to Fethullah Gülen’s network],” the prosecutor said.
In his defense statement, Akın Atalay said the newspaper’s editorial policy was not the prosecutors’ business. “Are we going to ask you, get permission from you? Since when did prosecutors begin to decide the editorial policy of newspapers? If you don’t like the paper’s editorial policy, don’t buy it, don’t read it,” Atalay said.
Cumhuriyet is on trial because the government is disturbed by the newspaper’s independence, Atalay added.
While releasing Sabuncu and Şık on March 9, the court ruled for the continuation of detention of Atalay and the chief judge explained this decision by saying, “The captain is the last person to abandon the ship.’’ Following their release, both Sabuncu and Şık called for the continuation of solidarity with journalists, academics and lawyers who are still in prison in Turkey.