The International Press Institute (IPI) today welcomed the acquittal on all charges of leading Turkey journalist and IPI Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel after three years of arbitrary judicial harassment. However, IPI condemned yesterday’s decision by the same court to confirm the sentences of 12 of Gürsel’s co-defendants in the Cumhuriyet trial in defiance of a September ruling by Turkey’s Supreme Court of Cassation.

Gürsel and his 12 co-defendants were originally convicted in April 2018 on baseless anti-terror charges and given prison sentences of various lengths. Many of the defendants, including Gürsel, had already spent months in pre-trial detention. The Supreme Court of Cassation overturned the sentences of 12 of the defendants due to insufficient evidence on September 12, 2019.

The “evidence” that underpinned the original convictions consisted of the journalists’ news reports, columns, social media posts, and work-related, innocuous or unavoidable contacts from individuals carrying the ByLock encryption application that was supposedly exclusively used by followers of Fethullah Gülen, the exiled Islamic cleric Turkey blames for the July 2016 coup attempt.

Gürsel said the lower court’s decision to acquit him should have been applied to all the defendants.

“The Supreme Court of Cassation’s ruling to overturn the verdict on myself is pleasing. However, my conscience is under great pressure due to the lower court resisting the Supreme Court’s decision of my colleagues”, Gürsel said.

“Despite my acquittal, I cannot full-heartedly enjoy this decision.”

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi welcomed the decision on Gürsel while expressing concern for the co-defendants.

“On behalf of IPI we are delighted that our friend and colleague has finally had the weight of these judicial prosecutions lifted from him. From the outset, this case was intended to punish Kadri Gürsel and his co-defendants for their critical journalism.”, Trionfi said. “However, this ruling does not undo the unnecessary suffering Kadri Gürsel has endured.”

She added: “We are deeply dismayed that the persecution of the remaining defendants in this case continues. The refusal of the lower courts to respect the rulings of the Supreme Court is yet more evidence of the fact that Turkey’s judiciary has been fully politically subverted.”

During an international press freedom mission to Turkey in September, IPI and seven other global press freedom groups repeatedly raised concerns about the failure of lower courts to respect the rulings of higher courts, which amounts to a serious undermining of the rule of law.

In May 2019, Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that Gürsel’s 11-month pre-trial detention following his initial arrest in 2016 violated his constitutional rights to liberty, security and freedom of expression.