What is behind the Cumhuriyet trial?

The trial of 17 employees of the daily paper Cumhuriyet begins today, Monday, in Istanbul. Among other charges they are accused of supporting the PKK and the Gülen movement, which are viewed as terrorist organisations in Turkey. Commentators in Europe see the charges as absurd and explain why the judiciary in Turkey has resorted to such accusations.

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Hürriyet (TR) /

On the very anniversary of the end of censorship

Hürriyet points out that the trial opens on a significant date - the anniversary of the abolishment of censorship in the Ottoman Empire:

“President Tayyip Erdoğan says that just two of the accused had a press card and that no one is being charged for anything that was written, signed or said but for terrorism and spying. This is true. Under a state of emergency those who work for the media are accused above all of supporting terrorism or of spying activities or for insulting the president. … Because in Turkey censorship was abolished 108 years ago journalists can't be charged for anything they have written. … Our constitution says in Article 28 that the 'press is free and uncensored'. This is a great day for press freedom, don't you agree?”

Politiken (DK) /

Accused can't hope for justice

The trial stands for the transformation of Turkey into an authoritarian police state, Politiken comments:

“The journalists face up to 43 years in prison. Can they be sure they will get a fair trial? No. ... It seems reasonable to view the attacks against the press and the democratic institutions as an attempt by the authoritarian president Erdoğan to strengthen his grip on power. A grip that he first extended with the introduction of the state of emergency after the failed coup on 15 July 2016, and then with the changes to the constitution. Or, as Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet's former chief editor who has now fled the country, put it: 'Turkey warded off the coup on July 15 2016 but then fell prey to Erdoğan's counter-coup on July 20. Not a military junta but a police state.”

Libération (FR) /

No holds barred

The trial against the journalists is like a macabre travesty of justice, Libération comments:

“Confronted with Kafkaesque charges, their trial is like that of Joseph K. [protagonist of Kafka's The Trial]: as absurd as it is pitiless. But there is meaning to this absurdity: it expresses the metamorphosis of Turkey, formerly a turbulent democracy and today a 'democratorship'. ... Erdoğan was long seen as a moderate Islamist. But while his Islamism has remained, his moderation has disappeared. Since the Gülenists' failed coup d'état some 50,000 people - with distant or even fictitious ties to the cleric - have ended up in prison. Cumhuriyet said the sultan was wearing no clothes, and that was its undoing.”