A Turkish court has sentenced 14 employees of a newspaper that has been critical of President Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s government to prison, convicting them on ‘terrorism’ charges.
The lengthy sentences have added to increasing fears over press freedom, particularly with national elections taking place in June.
According to Turkish state news agency Anadolu, the court handed down sentences of up to eight years to staff members of Cumhuriyet newspaper, one of the country’s last remaining independent publications.
The defendants were among over a dozen journalists and staff from Cumhuriyet to go on trial, accused of supporting terror organizations in the wake of a 2016 botched coup to oust Erdogan
The staff of the paper, which has long been critical of the president, were found guilty of supporting the network of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish cleric living in exile in the US. Erdogan claims Gulen has his supporters were behind the coup attempt, something the Pennsylvania-based cleric has denied.
Human rights groups said the sentences are intended to stifle criticism of the government before the snap elections, which Erdogan announced last week.
“These politically motivated sentences are clearly intended to instill fear and silence any form of dissent,” said Milena Buyum, Amnesty International’s Turkey campaigner.
“This is a shocking affront to press freedom and for justice in Turkey and sets a chilling precedent for scores of other journalists facing trials on similar trumped-up terrorism-related charges,” she added.