After five months of imprisonment Turkey has finally, formally indicted the staff from Cumhuriyet newspaper including cartoonist Musa Kart who, if found guilty, faces a twenty-nine year sentence.
As widely reported across Middle-Eastern media and by human rights organisations around the world yesterday, a total of nineteen names appear in the indictment with a variety of charges and proposed sentences for each suspect.
Musa Kart is accused of “helping an armed terrorist organization while not being a member” and “abusing trust” and prosecutors have stipulated a maximum sentence of twenty-nine years. His family have confirmed that the reporting of the charges is correct.
The essence of the government’s case against Cumhuriyet is that the paper conducted itself as a fifth column, “[starting] an intense perception operation, targeting the government of the Turkish Republic and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan by using asymmetrical war tactics” and “[providing] a basis for illegal politics.”
The International Press Institute has dismissed the content of the indictment as “nonsense” and in a bullish editorial Cumhuriyet says the details are “nothing but imaginary accusations and aspersions.”
The news comes as the #FreeTurkeyMedia campaign gets underway to highlight the plight of journalists in the county, all though the month preceding World Press Freedom Day.
Musa Kart is a past winner of our Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, having twice over been taken to court for cartoons deemed insulting by President Erdoğan. His work is often critical of Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian regime, but also of Fethullah Gülen, the alleged leader of last summer’s attempted coup, and of terrorism and extremism in Turkey overall. The substance of his work belies the government’s contention that he’s a Gülen Movement or PKK stooge.
In a 2004 cartoon published in Cumhuriyet, Kart depicts Fethulla Gülen as having infiltrated the Turkish military after the 1980 coup d’état – “Date 12 September 1980 – We have found ideal/suitable ground to climb up!” – Kart is accused by the current regime of supporting Gülen.
CRNI leadership responds:
“It is with the growing alarm that we read about the indictment just released against the Cumhuriyet journalists, including our friend, colleague and excellent cartoonist Musa Kart.
We absolutely condemn this embarrassing effort on the part of the Turkish government to further disappoint its own people. This indictment should be quashed and put on a shelf to gather dust. It is not worthy of the people of Turkey.
Every freedom loving country in the world should watch events in Turkey with care and see how an apparent slide into tyranny has continued step-by-step over time with apparent ease and impunity. This can happen in any country when freedom of speech, especially investigative and critical journalism, is throttled and the court system’s independence is eliminated.
We call on President Erdoğan to remember his early years when so many people in Turkey had such great hopes and faith in their own future. Membership in the European Union was making steady and effective progress, and all the world was watching with such anticipation.
We send our deepest level of support to these brave journalists, especially to Mr. Kart and his devoted and patient family who suffer along with their missing husband, father and grandfather.”
Dr. Robert Russell