The staff members of Turkey’s main opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet have attended a second court hearing amid rising criticism of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s lack of tolerance for dissent.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said Monday that the group of 19 media workers, whose trials were held at the Silivri prison court on the outskirts of Istanbul, faced various charges with sentences ranging from seven to 43 years in prison.
Among the staff members were prominent Turkish journalists, including editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and columnist Kadri Gursel, who have been behind bars for almost a year, and investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, also in jail for 255 days.
More than 50,000 people have been jailed in Turkey since a failed coup against Erdogan last year. Many of them are accused of having links to Fethullah Gulen, an opposition cleric based in the United States whom Ankara accuses of having masterminded the July 2016 coup plot.
Gulen has denied any role in the coup.
Estimates suggest some 170 media workers are behind bars in Turkey on different charges, including involvement in terrorism activities. If confirmed, the figure could be a record for imprisoned journalists in a country. Most of the journalists have been arrested following the coup.
Meanwhile, Cumhuriyet employees and supporters gathered outside the high-security Silivri prison Monday and called for the release of the paper staffers and other journalists. They held a paper’s edition with a front page that was headlined “We want justice.”
Rights groups and European governments have censured Turkey’s large-scale crackdown following the coup, saying the move has clearly gone beyond the rule of law. They accuse Erdogan and his ruling party of using the anti-terrorism campaign as a pretext to silence opponents.
Erdem Gul, a prominent journalist who heads the Ankara office of Cumhuriyet, said government would fail in its attempt to muzzle opposition media activists.
“It is journalism, freedom of thought and expression that are on trial,” said Gul, who himself is on trial in a separate case, adding, “But despite everything, we will continue our journalism.”