Turkish journalist defends press freedom as grand trial begins

Hundreds of protesters gather at court as 17 employees of Cumhuriyet newspaper stand trial on charges of aiding terrorists, The Guardian reports.

A top Turkish correspondent delivered a powerful defence of press freedom as he took the stand in the largest trial of journalists in the country, saying he was being punished for doing his job and criticising Turkey’s slide into authoritarianism.

Kadri Gürsel, one of 17 journalists, lawyers and executives from Cumhuriyet, Turkey’s oldest newspaper, who are standing trial on charges of aiding and abetting terrorist organisations, urged the presiding judge to drop the charges, saying the fact that he was standing trial on flimsy accusations was proof that his warnings of creeping authoritarianism were prescient.

“I am here because I am an independent, questioning and critical journalist, not because I knowingly and willingly helped a terrorist organization,” he said. “Because I have not compromised in my journalism and I am persistent until the end. All these accusations directed to me are devoid of wisdom and reason, and are beyond the scope of any law or conscience,” he added.

The Cumhuriyet trial has drawn broad condemnation from human rights and press freedom advocates, who say the allegations are unfounded and politically motivated, with the aim of muzzling the last major newspaper that is strongly critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling party. They see the threat of closure for the staunchly secular newspaper, founded in 1924, as an assault on the founding values of the republic.

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