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25 more journalists sent to prison in Turkey, accused of links to cleric living in Pennsylvania

A Turkish army special forces officer stands guard in front of a courthouse on March 9. (Photo credit should read OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

Continuing the country's crackdown on individuals, groups and publications perceived as disloyal to the government, a Turkish court sentenced another 25 journalists to prison on Friday.

Most of the convicted formerly worked for Zaman, a prominent newspaper that was shut down by the government following a failed coup in 2016. Twenty-three were sentenced to prison for up to seven and a half years for membership of an armed terrorist organization, and the remaining two were found guilty of helping a terrorist group, but were released based on time served.

Zaman was allegedly linked to Muslim cleric Fetullah Gulen, who is exiled in Pennsylvania. The Turkish government accuses Gulen of orchestrating the violent overthrow attempt, which he denies. The United States refuses to extradite him to Turkey.

In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed revenge; 50,000 people were arrested and another 150,000 were either fired or suspended from their jobs. Erdogan further expanded his control over the government, including the military, schools and court system.  He also issued tighter restrictions on internet usage in the country.

Using a state of emergency law, the Turkish government implemented a sweeping closure of news outlets in response to the threat of overthrow, including "at least 131 newspapers, television and radio stations, publishers and news agencies," according to The Guardian.

The actions against the press sparked outrage from groups worldwide, including Amnesty International, who said that "rounding up journalists and shutting down media houses is the latest assault on a media already weakened by years of government repression...the authorities are intent on silencing criticism without regard to international law."

Turkey holds more journalists in its prisons than any other country in the world, for the second year in a row. Domestic members of the press continue to be arrested, but the country has also gone after foreign correspondents, including a Wall Street Journal reporter.

One prominent journalist, Ahmet Sik, was held for six years before being acquitted of terrorism charges. Expressing his dismay, he told a Turkish court in a statement, "In Turkey, some members of the judiciary have become the gravediggers of justice."

 

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