Silivri (Turkey) (AFP) – The chairman of the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet on Tuesday denied charges his staff aided a terrorist organisation, days before a final verdict in a trial dismissed by critics as an attack on press freedom.
Akin Atalay, who has been in jail for over 500 days, is the only suspect in the case currently held in prison, while 16 others, mostly journalists, have been gradually released but remain on trial.
All are charged with supporting, through their coverage, three organisations that Turkey views as terror groups — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front, and the Gulen movement blamed for the 2016 failed coup.
If convicted, they could face sentences of up to 43 years in prison.
Atalay denied the charges at the courthouse in Silivri, outside Istanbul, and accused prosecutors of “stealing from people’s lives”, according to live coverage on Cumhuriyet’s website.
“I am reading the indictment about us again and again but I cannot understand it,” he said.
“The target is clear: take over Cumhuriyet, hand it over to docile hands and give an ultimatum to other newspapers and journalists.”
Supporters of the accused have repeatedly said the charges against the journalists are absurd and that the trial is political.
They have noted that the outlawed groups cited in the indictment are themselves at odds with each other.
“Journalism is seen as a crime … Are you aware of the danger? Cumhuriyet daily has no other job than journalism and publishing activity,” Atalay told the court.
The hearings are expected to continue until Friday before a verdict is announced.
Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and investigative journalist Ahmet Sik were released in March pending the conclusion of the trial.