ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court ruled on Friday that four prominent members of an opposition newspaper must remain in detention but freed seven others for the duration of the trial, in a case seen by critics of President Tayyip Erdogan as an attack on free speech.
Since the first hearing in the case on Monday, hundreds of people have protested outside the central Istanbul court against the prosecution of 17 writers, executives and lawyers of the secularist Cumhuriyet newspaper.
The court remanded in custody the chairman of Cumhuriyet’s executive committee Akin Atalay, its chief editor Murat Sabuncu, and reporters Kadri Gursel and Ahmet Sik until the next hearing on Sept. 11, citing the gravity of the charges they face.
Chief judge Abdurrahman Orkun Dag freed seven others until the next hearing on “judicial probation” – meaning they cannot leave the country and must report regularly to a police station.
Turkish prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for the newspaper staff, who stand accused of targeting Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods”.
The 324-page indictment alleges Cumhuriyet was effectively taken over by the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed for a failed coup last July, and used to “veil the actions of terrorist groups”.
Cumhuriyet says the charges are “imaginary accusations and slander”.
“They’re Telling Us to Kneel”
Gursel, along with Sabuncu and other senior staff, has been in pre-trial detention for more than 260 days.
“They’re telling us to kneel. Members of this rotten entity, with its gunmen and tyrants who lack honor, should know very well that until today I’ve only kneeled before my mother and father, and will never ever kneel before anybody else,” Sik told the crowded courtroom.
The court ordered an…