Trial under way for 17 journalists at Turkish opposition as country's press freedom crackdown continues

Seventeen journalists from prominent Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet are on trial charged with aiding a terrorist organisation.

The journalists, among some 150 believed to be currently imprisoned in the country, were detained for nine months ahead of the trial, which began yesterday – also Turkish press freedom day.

They are accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen, a political opponent of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now in exile in the US, who is blamed for last year’s failed coup attempt against the government.

If convicted, the journalists could each face sentences of up to 43 years in jail.

Defence lawyer Adil Demirci told the BBC: “This is obviously a political case. They are targeting Cumhuriyet because it is an opposition paper.”

Muratcan Sabuncu, son of imprisoned Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Murat Subuncu, wrote in the Guardian yesterday: “The case at trial is therefore journalism and the freedom of the press.”

He also said the charges were “Kafkaesque”.

About 150 media outlets have been banned in Turkey as part of a crackdown on the freedom of expression following the coup attempt, with press freedom organisations claiming more than 120 journalists are behind bars.

But, President Erdogan told the BBC earlier this month that only two journalists are currently imprisoned, saying: “The rest are either terrorists, or they were carrying guns, or they robbed ATM machines.”

Evidence used against journalists includes newspaper headlines, articles, columns and tweets.

Cumhuriyet is understood to have had a circulation of 53,000 copies in October 2016.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is calling on Turkey to release all jailed journalists.

Picture: Reuters/Murad Sezer

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