ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Friday ordered the release of the last jailed employee of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, one of 14 staff sentenced to lengthy prison terms in April 2018 on terrorism-related charges, the newspaper said.
In a case that drew global outrage over press freedom under President Tayyip Erdogan, the 14 employees of Cumhuriyet – one of the few remaining voices critical of the government – were accused of supporting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front militant groups.
They were also accused of supporting the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says organised a 2016 failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement.
The Cumhuriyet staff had been in and out of jail for the duration of their trials. In September, Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ordered the release of six of those jailed, leaving only Emre Iper, the newspaper’s accountant, still in jail.
Cumhuriyet said on Friday the court had ruled for Iper’s release after his lawyers appealed, following judicial reforms passed by the Turkish parliament this month aimed at improving freedoms of speech and press, as mandated by the European Union.
In the three-year purge since the coup attempt, more than 77,000 people have been jailed pending trial and about 150,000 civil servants, military personnel and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs. Some 150 media outlets have also been closed and 160 journalists jailed.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown, saying Erdogan used the coup as an excuse to quash dissent.
Harlem Desir, the media freedom representative at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said he welcomed Iper’s release.
He also cited media reports as saying three more journalists had also been released on Friday, which Reuters could not confirm.
“I welcome the release of four journalists and media workers today in Turkey, at a time when the new judicial reform is entering into force,” Desir said in a statement.
“I urge the Turkish authorities to use this positive momentum and release all journalists who are still behind bars in the country,” he said.
(Reporting by Can Sezer; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)