Top Turkish court orders release of jailed Cumhuriyet journalists

FILE PHOTO: A security personnel stands guard at the headquarters of Cumhuriyet newspaper, an opposition secularist daily, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals ordered on Thursday the release of six former employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper who were jailed on terrorism-related charges, two of the newspaper’s lawyers said.

The top court’s ruling that the journalists should be released is binding and the lawyers told Reuters they expected it to be implemented immediately.

The journalists due to be released are Hakan Kara, Mustafa Kemal Gungor, Guray Oz, Onder Celik, Bulent Utku and caricaturist Musa Kart. They had been sentenced to less than five years in jail, which usually leads to a suspended sentence in Turkish courts.

The newspaper’s former accountant, Emre Iper, was not expected to be released, the lawyers said.

The journalists were accused of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the banned leftist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) and the network of U.S.-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey says was behind a failed 2016 coup. Gulen denies any involvement.

The journalists had been in and out of jail for more than two years since being sentenced. They were briefly freed while appealing their convictions, which were upheld in February by a court in Istanbul. They were then returned to Kandira prison near Istanbul to serve the rest of their sentences.

Lawyers for the newspapers said they were expected to be released later on Thursday.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Dominic Evans