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Turkey court upholds convictions of opposition journalists

Cumhuriyet chairman Akin Atalay greets friends after being released from prison in April last year
Cumhuriyet chairman Akin Atalay greets friends after being released from prison in April last year Cumhuriyet chairman Akin Atalay greets friends after being released from prison in April last year AFP
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Istanbul (AFP)

A Turkish appeals court Tuesday upheld jail sentences against opposition journalists in a long-running case targeting the Cumhuriyet newspaper -- one of the few remaining dailies critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last year 14 former Cumhuriyet staff, including journalists and executives, were given multiple sentences for "aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member" but they remained free pending trial.

An appeals court in Istanbul said it unanimously approved the sentences.

Cumhuriyet reported that six former staff, including cartoonist Musa Kart, would have to go back to prison because their appeals had exhausted.

Veteran journalist Kadri Gursel and lawyer Bulent Utku would remain free given time they have already served in jail, the daily said.

But the remaining journalists who were given sentences of more than five years, including investigative reporter Ahmet Sik who is now an MP with the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, will have to apply to the Supreme Court of Appeals, Cumhuriyet reported.

This is also the case for former boss of the paper Akin Atalay and former editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu.

The controversial Cumhuriyet case sparked global outrage over the state of press freedom in Turkey.

Unlike many Turkish newspapers -- Cumhuriyet, the country's oldest daily founded in 1924 -- is not owned by a business tycoon but by an independent foundation.

- 'Prison calling'-

Andrew Gardner, Amnesty International's Turkey strategy and research manager, slammed the "biased" ruling.

"Today's ruling to send the former Cumhuriyet staff back to prison exposes yet again the way in which politically motivated trials and unsound court decisions are simply rubber stamped by an equally biased appeals process," he said in a statement.

"By using the courts to increase their stranglehold on the media, the authorities have once again displayed the ugly side of Turkey's broken judicial system," he said.

According to the International Press Institute, 155 journalists and media executives are in prison in Turkey, making it the country with the highest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

Kart, who was awarded last year a top prize by the Swiss organisation Cartooning for Peace, wrote on Twitter: "Yes, prison is calling me again. Take care of yourself."

Sik reacted with a quote attributed to French philosopher Voltaire: "We have only two days to live; it is not worth our while to spend them in cringing to contemptible rascals."

After the convictions last year, Cumhuriyet was shaken by the resignation of several journalists in protest at management changes.

The daily has often had troubles with government authorities, with its 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.

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