Turkey re-convicts journalists despite higher court ruling

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A Turkish court confirmed the convictions against former journalists from Turkey’s oldest newspaper on Thursday, despite their sentences being overturned by a higher court.

The judgement against 12 ex-staffers from Cumhuriyet was described as “scandalous” by rights groups, and further evidence of the sweeping crackdown on media freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The 12 were convicted last year of supporting, through their news coverage, three organizations that Turkey views as terrorist groups: the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, and the Gulen movement blamed for a failed coup in 2016.

They were sentenced to jail terms ranging from two-and-a-half years to more than eight years.

In September, the Supreme Court overturned the sentences and freed the former journalists pending Thursday’s retrial.

But the lower court ignored that decision, and reconfirmed the original sentences, with the exception of one journalist - Kadri Gursel - who was acquitted.

“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, outside the court.

“The same very weak, bogus evidence has been used once again... It is a scandalous decision and another decision that will go down in history as evidence of Turkey’s broken criminal justice system,” she added.

The Constitutional Court ruled in May that the case had violated the rights to freedom, free expression and personal security of two of the journalists: Gursel and Murat Aksoy.

In court, the defendants struck a defiant tone, with Cumhuriyet’s former lawyer Bulent Utku saying the case was “political from the beginning, and aimed at revenge.”

Turkish media groups have been steadily brought under the control of Erdogan’s allies in recent years. Cumhuriyet, founded in 1924, is a rare Turkish paper not in the hands of a business tycoon, but controlled by an independent foundation.

The daily has come under huge pressure, with former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fleeing to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to Islamist groups in Syria.

Turkey is considered one of the world’s leading jailer of journalists, and currently ranked 157 out of 180 countries for press freedom by Reporters Without Borders.

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