A Turkish cartoonist who purchased a holiday from a tour company linked to a religious group accused of orchestrating the failed July 2016 coup has been ordered back to jail.
Musa Kart, who gave his latest media interview before returning to prison to Euronews, is one of six current and former workers at Cumhuriyet, the country’s oldest independent newspaper, to lose an appeal against conviction on terror-related charges.
Their case is the latest erosion of press freedom in Turkey, where journalists are among thousands facing charges in a crackdown sparked by the failed coup. Many have been detained for more than a year without trial.
More than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial, while about 150,000 civil servants and military personnel have been sacked or suspended from their jobs. Widespread operations and arrests are still routine.
Kart believes the failed coup is being used as a pretext by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to keep opponents behind bars.
“I have been drawing cartoons for almost 40 years,” he told Euronews on Wednesday. “I have witnessed so many political eras, I have drawn cartoons of many political leaders, which could be considered harsh. I have never faced a legal punishment.
“However, today our space of living has been narrowed significantly. Those who were not happy with our drawing put us in jail using this [coup] excuse.”
Kart was among 14 staff of Cumhuriyet to receive a jail sentence last year on charges of terrorism or links to US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen, a key Erdogan opponent, despite also bring a critic of Gülen.
He was sentenced to four years in prison last year. Indictment files uploaded to the government’s judiciary website last year showed that booking a holiday with ETS Tur was considered a connection with the Gulen movement.
“Evidently, holidays in Turkey are not that cheap,” Kart joked on Twitter at the time.
Despite the apparent connection, the founder of ETS Tur, Mehmet Ersoy, last year became Erdogan’s tourism and culture minister.
Kart was among six workers freed while appealing their convictions, which were upheld in February by a court in Istanbul.
The six including Kart, four administrators and one accountant, were returned to Kandira prison, 90 miles from Istanbul, to serve the rest of their jail sentences. Eight others are awaiting appeal or have served their sentences.
Turkey is the world’s top jailor of professional journalists and is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.
Kart said he hoped the case would galvanise opposition to the crackdown.
“There is a task for us,” he said. “We have to show that these policies, this way of thinking should be abandoned.”
“We have to stand tall against this suppressing, cruel attitude. There is no way we should yield or step back. Our children, grandchildren are living in this country. This is our country and we love our country and we will stay here and go into jail again if we have to.”