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Turkey opposition journalist joins free press protest after release

© AFP | Cumhuriyet chairman Akin Atalay greets friends outside his newspaper's office after spending more than 500 days in jail

ISTANBUL (AFP) - 

Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet's chairman Akin Atalay on Thursday joined a protest for free press and justice outside an Istanbul court, a day after he was released after serving over 500 days in prison.

The contentious case, seen as a test of press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, saw a court Wednesday hand out multiple prison sentences to over a dozen Cumhuriyet staff for "aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member."

They however remain free pending appeal.

Atalay, who was the only journalist remaining behind bars as others were gradually freed during the trial, demanded justice outside Istanbul's main court Caglayan.

"I am currently free but it is not over," Atalay told AFP.

"We are one more now. The guards of justice here have won one more person but others will join in gradually," he said.

Cumhuriyet, Turkey's oldest daily, has been a fierce critic of Erdogan, and a target of a series of legal actions which seen its staff often land in court.

- 'Shame'-

Atalay was upbeat despite the tough environment.

"People say they are desperate but to the contrary, I am cheerful," he said, adding that the fight for justice and law cannot be led "scowlingly.

"We are representing good people and that's why we have to be cheerful because we know the outcome: the good will win against the bad."

After more than a year in jail, Atalay said he missed things such as chatting with close friends, eating in restaurants or going to the movies.

"It is so nice even to take a breath outside. I experienced it last night."

Atalay walked to the main office of his newspaper under tight protection. A giant banner outside the building bore his picture with the message: "You are not alone."

"We will never succumb to fear," he told his colleagues, who warmly welcomed him with songs of freedom.

The paper Thursday headlined the ruling on its front page as "shame", saying that the heavy sentences were a "black stain."

"It is hard to do journalism in Turkey," Mert Gumus, one of the staffers, told AFP.

"We are working under pressure and tough circumstances but when our colleagues were behind bars, we had to act responsibly and work even more," he said.

© 2018 AFP