ANKARA (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Friday that two journalists should be released for the duration of their trial for subversion, a lawyer at the courthouse said.
Murat Sabuncu, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Cumhuriyet, and writer Ahmet Sik were ordered released, the lawyer said. However, Cumhuriyet said that its attorney, Akin Atalay, was remanded in custody until the next hearing, on March 16.
Prosecutors charge that Cumhuriyet was effectively taken over by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric blamed by the government for a 2016 failed coup. The newspaper and staff deny the charges and say they are being targeted to silence critics of President Tayyip Erdogan.
Prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for the newspaper staff, who stand accused of targeting Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods.”
Social media posts made up most of evidence in the indictment, along with allegations that staff had been in contact with users of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by Gulen’s followers.
Rights group Amnesty International said on Twitter that the ruling was “long overdue” and called for the release of all jailed journalists in Turkey.
Speaking after his release, Sabuncu said their release was not a reason to be happy, since several journalists remained in prison.
“We should not be happy that we have been released because our release does not mean things have changed in Turkey regarding freedom of speech,” Sabuncu told reporters.
Sik reiterated Sabuncu’s comments, saying he would rather see anger than happiness.
“I am not happy in any way. I don’t want you to be happy while Akin Atalay is still inside. I would prefer if you were angry, for anger will keep us standing,” Sik said.
“Today is not a day for us to be happy, but there will come a day when we will be happy in this country,” he said.
Around 150 media outlets have been shut down and 160 journalists have been jailed, the Turkish Journalists Association says.
Earlier on Friday, Turkey’s highest court overturned a five-year jail sentence for Cumhuriyet’s former editor-in-chief, Can Dundar, saying he should face up to 20 years in prison on espionage charges, the state-run news agency Anadolu said.
Since the July 2016 coup attempt, more than 150,000 people have been sacked or suspended from their jobs in Turkey, and another 50,000 have been arrested over alleged links to Gulen’s network.
Gulen, who has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999, has denied involvement in the abortive putsch, in which more than 240 people were killed.
(Reporting by Yesim Dikman, Huseyin Aldemir and Can Sezer in Istanbul, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Larry King)