Seventeen employees of a Turkish opposition newspaper went on trial on Monday accused of supporting a terrorist group, a case seen by government critics as a further sign that freedom of expression is under attack.
“Journalism is not a crime,” chanted several hundred people gathered outside the central Istanbul court to protest against the prosecution of writers, executives and lawyers of the staunchly secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper.
The hearing coincides with an escalating dispute with Germany over the arrest in Turkey of 10 rights activists, including one German, as part of a crackdown since 2016’s attempted coup against President Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish prosecutors were seeking up to 43 years in jail for staff from the paper, including some of Turkey’s best-known journalists, who are accused of targeting Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods”.
“According to the government, everyone in opposition is a terrorist, the only non-terrorists are themselves,’’ Filiz Kerestecioglu, a member of parliament from the pro-Kurdish opposition party, told newsmen ahead of the trial.
According to the 324-page indictment, Cumhuriyet was effectively taken over by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the failed putsch last July, and used to “veil the actions of terrorist groups”.