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Three journalists were given life sentences yesterday on charges of "trying to overthrow constitutional order by means of violence" and being members of the leadership of the outlawed Marxist-Leninist Communist Party (MLKP), which the government regards as a "terrorist" organization.
They were among a total of 29 accused MLKP members who were defendants in a trial before an Istanbul court that ended when sentences were passed at 2 a.m. yesterday.
The three journalists are Füsun Erdogan, former head of Ozgür Radyo, Ibrahim Cicek, editor of the weekly Atilim, and Bayram Namaz, an Atilim reporter. A fourth journalist, Atilim publisher Sedat Senoglu, was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.
"These extremely harsh sentences have ended a trial marked by violations of defence rights and unacceptably long pre-trial detention for the main defendants," Reporters Without Borders said. "Despite a grave decline in her state of health, Füsun Erdogan spent more than seven years in prison before being sentenced. So did Bayram Namaz. What happened to the presumption of innocence?
"Key defence requests were ignored. Why did the court always refuse to allow expert examination of the prosecution's main evidence, documents provided by the police, in order to verify their authenticity? Why were the police unable to support their account of the interrogations, which the defendants disputed?
"We urge the judicial system to take account of these circumstances on appeal, and to reexamine the case with complete impartiality. But that could take some time, given the Turkish judicial system's slowness. Meanwhile, the journalists should be released conditionally at once."
On the basis of their alleged leadership positions, Erdogan, Namaz and Cicek were also held responsible for around 150 individual acts by the MLKP, for which each of them was given an additional sentence of nearly 3,000 years in prison.
According to the indictment, they were arrested in September 2006 in the western village of Ocakli, where they were allegedly preparing the MLKP's fourth congress and where guns were allegedly found. Erdogan accuses the authorities of making this up, and insists that she and her husband, Cicek, were arrested as they left a friend's home in another town.
The European Court of Human Rights has already condemned Turkey for holding Namaz for so long pending trial. In July 2013, Turkey's constitutional court ruled that the 10-year limit on pre-trial detention set by the anti-terrorism law was too long, and gave the government a year to reduce it. Meanwhile, there has been little sign of any change in judicial practices.
In a letter to Reporters Without Borders last January, Erdogan described her arrest and detention, and the judicial investigation's many procedural irregularities (download the letter). "I was kept in prison for exactly two years without knowing why I was arrested," she wrote.
The letter also details the weaknesses of the prosecution cases and her many health problems: "high blood pressure, hepatitis B, cysts in both breasts and increased myopia," as well as thyroid cancer.
Reporters Without Borders' Turkey representative attended all of the most recent hearings in the trial, along with members of the Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP), Turkey's TGS and TGC unions, and the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), as well as other local and international observers.