Sentence against ex-“cumhuriyet” employee: creating fear

Employees of the newspaper must go back to prison. This keeps up the pressure on Turkey’s democratic forces.

The accused ex-employees of Cumhuriyet Photo: Canan Coskun

Six employees of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet were forced back to prison Thursday afternoon after a court in Istanbul ruled that their prison sentences were legal. Cartoonist Musa Kart, journalists Guray oz and Hakan Karader, and an accountant, a lawyer and a board member must serve their remaining prison sentences. According to the verdict, they supported terrorist organizations. But the whole world knows what it was really about: their journalism.

The Cumhuriyet employees had been arrested for the first time in November 2016. The Cumhuriyet trial in 2017 was followed with great attention throughout Europe. The trial of the journalists became a symbol of everything that had gone wrong in Turkey since the 2016 coup attempt: Media outlets shut down by decree, mass arrests on terror charges, the inexorable slide into authoritarianism under Erdogan’s rule. For some, Cumhuriyet became a sign of everything worth fighting for in Turkey. But in the meantime, hopes for a democratic Turkey seem to have faded somewhat and not much remains of the old Cumhuriyet.

As if in a bad movie, the prisoners, who had initially been released in July 2017, learned that their newspaper no longer existed in this form: An old boss of the newspaper, who had testified against them and helped to arrange their arrest, had in the meantime taken over Cumhuriyet by court order.

Those released from prison quit their jobs, some looked for work elsewhere, others withdrew and spent every minute with their families. Because they knew that they would have to go back to prison if their sentences were upheld by the appeals court. And so it came to pass.

Freedom of expression of the lynch mob

Before going back to prison, cartoonist Musa Kart said goodbye in a tweet, "The man who struck with his fist is free, the cartoonist and journalists are in prison." He was referring to the man who attacked opposition leader Kemal Kılıcdaroglu at a soldier’s funeral in Ankara on Sunday. The CHP party leader had been nearly lynched by the crowd.

One perpetrator, who was arrested, was released a short time later and declared a hero by Erdogan supporters. The lynch mob’s attacks were justified on the grounds of freedom of expression. Because that, not journalism, is the new definition of freedom of expression in Turkey.