Turkish court extends detention of Cumhuriyet journalists

Turkish soldiers stand guard outside the Silivri Prison and Courthouse complex during trial of 17 writers, executives and lawyers of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper in Silivri near Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday. (REUTERS)
Updated 13 September 2017

Turkish court extends detention of Cumhuriyet journalists

ANKARA: A second hearing in Istanbul on Monday extended the detention of five journalists with Turkey’s leading opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet.
They are accused of helping the Gulen network — which is believed to have masterminded last year’s failed coup attempt — the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the ultra-left Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C). All three are branded by Ankara as terrorist organizations.
After a 13-hour session, the court ruled to keep the journalists in prison until the next hearing on Sept. 25, when the court is expected to give its verdict on the basis of expert reports and eyewitness accounts.
The journalists have been in pre-trial detention for almost a year. The first hearing was held on July 28 in Istanbul, where seven of the newspaper’s staff were freed after 271 days in prison.
“The reason I’m here in front of you isn’t because I ‘helped a terror organization while not being a member.’ It’s because I was an independent, critical, questioning journalist, and because I’ve never compromised my work as a journalist and always insisted on doing my job correctly,” Kadri Gursel, editorial adviser at Cumhuriyet and board member at the International Press Institute, told the court.
“Whatever the verdict, my conscience is clean. And if there’s even a little bit of justice left, I know I’ll be freed.”
Some members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have begun moderating their stance on the case.
AKP deputy and former Education Minister Nabi Avci said on the day of the trial that it is not “a right thing” to take the Cumhuriyet case together with other coup cases.
Laura Batalla, secretary-general of the European Parliament Turkey Forum, told Arab News that extending the journalists’ detention is yet another attack on press freedom in the country.
“The European Parliament has repeatedly condemned the arrests of journalists, and has voiced its concern over the decline of media freedom in Turkey in several resolutions,” she said.
“Press freedom and respect for democratic values are at the core of the EU’s enlargement process. These values must be upheld in order for the accession process to proceed, which remains the EU’s most powerful instrument to bring Turkey and the EU closer together.”
Rebecca Harms, a member of the European Parliament and part of a delegation of observers following up on the trial, said she is disappointed but not surprised by the extension of the journalists’ detention.
“The charges against them as purported supporters of terrorism, and their alleged affinity to the Gulen movement, were refuted again in court,” she told Arab News.
“Cumhuriyet belongs to the most ardent critics of the Gulen movement, and it represents secular and liberal values.”
Burak Cop, associate professor of politics at Istanbul Kultur University, told Arab News that the trial mainly focused on the newspaper’s editorial policies rather than allegations of supporting terrorism.
According to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), 171 journalists are behind bars in Turkey.


Anti-Assad fighters withdraw from key area of northwest Syria

Updated 47 min 33 sec ago

Anti-Assad fighters withdraw from key area of northwest Syria

  • The withdrawal means an important Turkish observation point in the nearby town of Morek is effectively surrounded by government forces
  • After eight years of civil war, the Idlib region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar

BEIRUT: Jihadists and allied rebels withdrew from a key area of northwestern Syria Tuesday as President Bashar Assad’s forces pressed an offensive against the jihadist-run Idlib region, a war monitor said.
The fighters pulled back from the town of Khan Sheikun and the countryside to its south overnight and in the early hours of Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The withdrawal means an important Turkish observation point in the nearby town of Morek is effectively surrounded by government forces, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP.
On Monday, a Turkish military convoy crossed the border into the Idlib region, sparking condemnation from Damascus as Ankara alleged air strikes had targeted its troops.
The convoy halted just north of Khan Sheikhun on Monday afternoon and remained there on Tuesday, after government forces took control of a section of the highway into the town.
Pro-government newspaper Al-Watan said Monday morning’s strike targeted a rebel vehicle scouting the road in front of the Turkish convoy.
“The Syrian army in its own way sent a clear message to the Turkish regime by forcing convoys sent by Ankara to help the terrorists in Khan Sheikhun to come to a halt,” it said.
It was a “clear warning against any Turkish attempt to resuscitate the terrorists,” the paper said, adding that the strike had “Russian support.”
After eight years of civil war, the Idlib region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
Since January, it has been administered by the Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham alliance, which is led by jihadists from Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.
The region of some three million people was supposed to be protected by a Turkish-Russian buffer zone deal signed last year.
But government and Russian forces have subjected it to heavy bombardment since late April, killing more than 860 civilians, according to an Observatory toll.
The United Nations says the shelling and air strikes have also hit dozens of health facilities and caused more than 400,000 people to flee their homes.
The war in Syria has killed more than 370,000 people since the rebels first took arms following the brutal repression of anti-government protests in 2011.
Rival interventions by outside powers have turned it into a complex conflict with multiple battle fronts that has driven millions of civilians from their homes.