Turkey newspaper staff walk free after nine months in jail

Seven staff from the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet walked free Saturday after nine months in jail, expressing hope that four colleagues still behind bars would be released soon.

Cartoonist Musa Kart was among the Cumhuriyet who have walked free
Cartoonist Musa Kart was among the Cumhuriyet who have walked free (AFP)

Seven staff from the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet walked free Saturday after nine months in jail, expressing hope that four colleagues still behind bars would be released soon.

An Istanbul court had Friday ordered that the seven be released under judicial control, meaning they remain charged and will have to report to the authorities.

The staff from the newspaper, one of the few voices in the media in Turkey to oppose Erdogan, had been on trial for aiding terror groups, in accusations denounced as absurd by supporters.

But the trial, which started earlier this week, is a test for press freedom under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the most prominent journalists from the newspaper remain in jail.

The seven freed, including respected cartoonist Musa Kart, left Silviri jail on the outskirts of Istanbul to cheers and embraces from supporters in the early hours of Saturday.

"We were taken away from the people we love, our relatives, our work," said Kart after his release.

'No hatred'

But he added: "Believe me, during this period in jail we have felt no hatred, no rancour, we could not live with such thoughts."

The others released include books supplement editor Turhan Gunay as well as the paper's legal executives. They had been held for 271 days.

The four remaining in custody are the commentator Kadri Gursel, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, the paper's editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu and chief executive Akin Atalay.

Kart said: "I thought I was going to be very happy to find out that I was going to be released but I can't say that today. Unfortunately, four of our friends are still behind bars.

"The image of journalists in jail is not flattering for our country and I hope our four friends will come out as soon as possible."

The Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI), which has pushed for Kart's release, said the news was "better than could have been expected" but added there was "little comfort" for the families of those returning to jail.

"Deficient justice," headlined Cumhuriyet, above the pictures of the four staff still in prison.

"Our friends and their lawyers proved that the accusations are baseless and illegal... The world saw it, the court did not," it added.

The staff are charged with supporting in their coverage three entities that Turkey considers terror groups -- the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the movement of Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher who Ankara accuses of ordering last year's coup attempt.

The next hearing is set for September 11. If convicted, they face varying terms of up to 43 years in jail.

Prosecutors meanwhile said they would file new accusations against Sik over an incendiary defence statement he made on Wednesday where he slammed Turkey's ruling party over its past cooperation with the Gulen movement.