A Turkish court has sentenced 13 journalists to prison on terrorism charges, prompting international condemnation of the country’s deteriorating press freedoms.
The BBC reports that the journalists, who worked for an opposition newspaper called Cumhuriyet, were arrested during a crackdown that followed a failed coup attempt in 2016.
The defendants include journalists, managers and a lawyer for the paper, which has taken a strong stance against the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Those convicted face up to seven and a half years behind bars, but will remain free pending their appeals.
Akin Atalay, the paper’s chairman, was sentenced to seven years in prison after already serving 500 days. Editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and prominent cartoonist Musa Kart were among those jailed. Three journalists were also acquitted, according to the BBC.
The Cumhuriyet staff were accused of affiliation with groups labeled as terror organizations by the government, such as the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front.
They have also been accused of supporting the cleric Fetullah Gulen, who has been living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile.
More than 50,000 people were arrested in Turkey and 150,000 removed or suspended from their jobs in the wake of the attempted coup, including public servants, members of the media, police, military personnel and teachers.
“Enough is enough with this cruelty,” read Cumhuriyey’s front page editorial prior to the court hearing, the BBC reports. “You will be shamed in front of history,” said the paper’s website after the ruling.
Press freedom advocates have denounced the convictions.
“We condemn the convictions handed down to Cumhuriyet journalists by a justice system so compromised it should be on trial itself,” Nina Ognianova of the Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement. “Conflating journalism with terrorism is a transparently cynical ploy by the Turkish authorities to shut down the press. We call for all of these verdicts to be overturned on appeal.”
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