This week, International Press Institute (IPI), together with other leading international free expression groups as well as international journalists and European Parliament members, travelled to Istanbul to observe the trial, in which 17 journalists and executives with the secular daily Cumhuriyet have been charged with terror-related offences, with some facing up to 43 years in prison.
In North America, the court proceedings were covered by, among others, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, CNN and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), who drew attention to the criticism voiced by IPI and other organizations over the Turkish government’s attempt to silence free expression.
The trial on Monday opened with a show of solidarity by hundreds of Cumhuriyet’s supporters outside the courthouse, as well as defiant testimonies by the defendants inside the courtroom.
“This case is about criminalizing journalism,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis, told CNN outside the courthouse in Istanbul on Monday.
“It’s about punishing those who speak out. And if it works here today in this week, they will do it again, again, and again,” he warned.
In Germany, a country currently in the process of sharpening its policies toward Turkey in the wake of jailings of journalists and human rights activists, news outlets including Deutsche Welle, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Spiegel Online highlighted the flimsy evidence used in the indictments, describing the trial as part of President Erdoğan’s “post coup crackdown”.
Commenting to DW, IPI’s Ellis denounced the case as “emblematic of what is happening in Turkey”, saying that obviously “journalism is being criminalized, politically motivated charges are being brought to try and silence the critics of this government”.
The Austrian daily Der Standard focused in particular on the accusations against IPI Board Member Kadri Gürsel, which the paper noted were full of “obvious inaccuracies”. Gürsel was brought to testify on Monday, and called the allegations “completely groundless” and “out of reality”
In Spain, leading media outlets including the dailies El País, El Mundo and the online news sites Público and Infolibre commented on the weakeness of the indictments against the Cumhuriyet journalists. El Mundo called the accusations against the 17 defendants “absurd”, while Infolibre wrote that the trials aimed to “silence the few opposition voices left” in Turkey. All four of them pointed out that the space for free expression had narrowed in the country in recent years.
Elsewhere, the Guardian cited an opinion by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention finding that the pre-trial detention of the Cumhuriyet journalists “contravened the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and was arbitrary”. The paper also carried an editorial by the son of Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu.
Reuters made note of the scale of Turkey’s crackdown, which has led to the forced closure of more than 150 media outlets and the jailing of more than 150 journalists.
BBC gave voice to the supporters and family members of the defendants. “All I can say is that this is a political case,” Elif Gunay, daughter of Turhan Gunay, editor-in-chief of the newspaper’s book supplement, told the broadcaster. “They are held for being journalists, for doing their jobs”.
The high-profile trial, expected to be one of the biggest tests for free expression, the rule of law and democracy in modern Turkey, did not fail to make the news in dozens of other countries, including Lithuania, Italy, France, Hungary, Australia, Mexico, Indonesia, Pakistan, Denmark, Finland, Poland and Trinidad and Tobago.
In Turkey, where few media outlets still remain independent from government control or influence, the trial was closely covered by Hürriyet, Hürriyet Daily News, CNN Turk and Bianet (English), as well as by Cumhuriyet itself.
IPI, together with international partners including the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF), PEN International and its branches in Norway, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy, and the Netherlands, the European and International Federations of Journalists (EFJ and IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), has repeatedly called for authorities to release the Cumhuriyet journalists from prison and for the court to dismiss all charges.
The trial against Cumhuriyet will continue throughout the week, with an interim decision on further detention of the defendants expected on Friday.