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Turkish journalists held on terrorism charges

TWO Turkish journalists claimed they were not receiving a fair and legal trial today as they were sent back to jail on trumped-up terrorism charges by an Istanbul court.

ETHA news agency editor Semiha Sahin and correspondent Pinar Gayip were arrested in April in police raids relating to social media posts and news reports made over a four-year period from 2014.

The pair are charged with membership of a terrorist organisation and spreading terrorist propaganda due to the agency’s alleged links to the Socialist Party of the Oppressed (ESP), a constituent organisation of the opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP).

ETHA insists that it is an independent news organisation which makes “the voices of the oppressed heard,” including Turkey’s Kurdish, Armenian and Alevi populations.

Human rights network English Pen’s representative Debbie Luxon, who was in court as an observer, said that, after a break was called in the hearing, private security refused re-entry to the journalists’ families, reporters and international observers.

The judge ordered the pair to be returned to jail on pre-trial detention, a decision he made behind closed doors, fearing “a demonstration in the courtroom.”

Press freedom is severely restricted in Turkey, which has jailed more journalists than any other country, a third of the world’s total.

This week alone 84 journalists are on trial, the majority facing trumped-up charges of terrorism for opposing the brutal regime of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

On Friday, management of the Cumhuriyet newspaper was taken over by pro-government elements who sacked senior staff and imposed a new editorial line.

A number of staff members have since resigned. Columnist Bulent Sik warned on Sunday: “The management change at Cumhuriyet newspaper is an operation conducted by the judiciary of the AKP (Justice & Development Party).”

There were further resignations yesterday, including columnists Tayfun Atay and Kemal Can and digital media co-ordinator Bulent Mumay.

Ms Luxon said the outcome of yesterday’s hearing was “business as usual for the Turkish courts,” with the blocking of access designed to “overwhelm advocates and free-speech reporters.”

“The trial itself was unlawful before it started, from the lack of opportunity to testify, the pre-trial detention and the judges’ refusal to let journalists be present at the verdict.

“Nonetheless, the atmosphere of solidarity in frustration was present in the crowd that filled the courtroom and the hall,” she said.

Ms Sahin and Ms Gayip will return to court on December 5.

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