Turkish opposition newspaper staff walk free after over 8 months jail

Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart speaks to the media after being freed from Silivri prison on July 28, 2017.
Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart speaks to the media after being freed from Silivri prison on July 28, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Seven staff from the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet walked free from jail early Saturday (July 29) after over eight months behind bars, expressing hope four colleagues still in prison would be released soon.

An Istanbul court had on Friday ordered the release of the seven people in the trial - seen as a test for press freedom under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan - but kept the most prominent journalists in jail.

The staff from the newspaper, one of the few voices in the media in Turkey to oppose Erdogan, had been charged with aiding terror groups in accusations denounced as absurd by supporters.

Those freed have been released under judicial control, meaning they will have to report regularly to the authorities and remain charged.

The seven, including the paper's respected cartoonist Musa Kart, were freed from Silviri jail on the outskirts of Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday following the court decision.

"We were taken away from the people we love, our relatives, our work," said Kart after his release.

'NO HATRED'

But he added: "Believe me, during this period in jail we have felt no hatred, no rancour, we could not live with such thoughts."

The others released include books supplement editor Turhan Gunay as well as the paper's legal executives. They had been held for 271 days in jail.

The four remaining in custody are the commentator Kadri Gursel, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, the paper's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and chief executive Akin Atalay.

Kart commented: "I thought I was going to be very happy to find out that I was going to be released but I can't say that today. Unfortunately, four of our friends are still behind bars."

"The image of journalists in jail is not flattering for our country and I hope our four friends will come out as soon as possible."

The staff are charged with supporting in their coverage three groups that Turkey considers terror groups - the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher who Ankara accuses of ordering last year's coup attempt.

The next hearing was set for Sept 11. If convicted, they face varying terms of up to 43 years in jail.

Prosecutors meanwhile said they would file new accusations against Sik over an incendiary defence statement he made on Wednesday where he slammed Turkey's ruling party over its past cooperation with the Gulen movement.