The International Press Institute (IPI) today called on Turkey to quickly pass a promised judicial reform package that would see journalists who were jailed as part of the Cumhuriyet trial freed pending further appeal.

Turkish lawmakers are currently considering ending a rule that bars certain defendants convicted in free-speech-related cases with sentences of less than five years from appealing to Turkey’s Supreme Court. The rule was used earlier this year to jail several former journalists from the secular newspaper Cumhuriyet after an appeals court upheld their sentences in February. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had committed to passing the reforms earlier this year.

IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi urged lawmakers to pass the measure before the summer recess.

“Turkey should follow through on its commitment and ensure that journalists in the Cumhuriyet trial are granted further appeal and are released while pursuing that appeal”, she said. “The current rule is deeply unfair and prevents journalists from effectively challenging their convictions according to the rule of law. Overturning it now, before the summer recess, would send a signal that Turkey is willing to take steps to improve protections for fundamental rights.”

In April 2018, 14 then-journalists and staff members with Cumhuriyet, including IPI Executive Board member Kadri Gürsel, were convicted – despite a complete lack of evidence – on charges of supporting groups the Turkish authorities consider to be terrorist organizations. Proceedings in the case were plagued by egregious violations of the rule of law.

In February, a regional appeals court in Istanbul upheld the sentences of all 14 defendants. Defendants in the case who received jail sentences longer than five years have a right of further appeal to Turkey’s Supreme Court and remain free. All other sentences are considered final, prompting authorities in April to return six defendants, including well-known cartoonist Musa Kart, to prison. Gürsel was briefly jailed again in May before being released to serve out the remainder of his sentence on probation.

Founded in 1950, the International Press Institute (IPI) is a global network of editors, journalists and media executives dedicated to furthering and safeguarding press freedom, promoting the free flow of news and information, and improving the practices of journalism.