Journalists given jail time ahead of snap polls

Journalists given jail time ahead of snap polls

Turkey has less than two months left to the early presidential and parliamentarian elections on June 24.

The Supreme Election Board (YSK) has announced that candidates can apply by May 6.

Meral Akşener, the leader of the center-right İYİ (Good) Party, said on April 26 that she was under “democratic pressure” to withdraw and agree on a joint opposition candidate against President Tayyip Erdoğan. But she said she would neither withdraw nor accept a joint candidate, amid reports that former President Abdullah Gül may be presented as a joint nominee from the opposition bloc.

Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) MP Ayhan Bilgen said that in the event of not agreeing on a joint candidate, they would stick to jailed co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş’s candidacy. The HDP has although hinted they would accept Gül’s candidacy.

Temel Karamollaoğlu, the leader of the conservative Felicity (Saadet) Party, has been in a shuttle diplomacy among opposition parties and Gül to convince both sides to announce Gül’s candidacy. He, however, could not succeed so far.

Gül is also under pressure by those who don’t want him to run against his longtime fellow Erdoğan. Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım said that the attempts to push Gül to run against Erdoğan were a political engineering project that failed. Meanwhile, ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) MP Reşat Yörük also mounted pressure on Gül not to be a candidate. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli, who supports Erdoğan’s re-election, said Gül should better take the warnings seriously. 

As Gül keeps his silence, main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who made a surprise move by lending 15 of his party’s MPs to join the İYİ Party in a bid to help the newly-founded party form a parliamentary group and not be excluded from joining the elections, seemingly doesn’t want to waste more time on the talks on a joint candidate and wants to focus on actually determining a candidate to run against Erdoğan.

But while all the public attention is on the political maneuvers, an Istanbul court handed down multiple prison sentences to 13 staff, including journalists and executives, of the center-left daily Cumhuriyet on the evening of April 25.

The prison sentences for the Cumhuriyet journalists vary between 2.5 and 7.5 years on charges that they aided terrorist organizations. No, you did not read it wrong: The journalists of a center-left newspaper have been sentenced to jail for aiding three separate terrorist organizations. According to the judges, they helped the Fethullahist Terrorist Organizaion (FETÖ), the illegal network of the U.S.-based Islamist preacher accused of masterminding the 2016 military coup attempt; the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting against Turkey for independence for more than three decades; and the fringe leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front (DHKP-C), all at the same time.

The journalists who appeared before the court have protested the ruling and said it was a politically-motivated decision.

Most of the journalists sentenced had already spent at least more than a year in jail; right now all of them are out with the condition of being under police surveillance every day and a ban on travelling abroad until the sentences are approved by the Supreme Court of Cassation. Akın Atalay, the chair of the Cumhuriyet Foundation who was behind bars for 541 days, was the only one released from prison. “We will continue to tell the truth,” he vowed after being released on the night of April 25.

There are currently 148 journalists and media employees jailed in Turkey, according to the Turkish Journalists Association (TGC). But, according to the Turkish government, they are imprisoned not because of their journalistic activities, but for aiding terrorism.

Murat Yetkin, hdn, Opinion,