Turkish court keeps opposition newspaper staff in jail during trial

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish judge ordered four prominent journalists and senior staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper to remain in jail for at least two more months during their trial, accused of supporting the organizers of last year’s failed coup.

Editor in chief Murat Sabuncu, attorney Akin Atalay, correspondent Ahmet Sik and accountant Emre Iper, some of whom have already been detained for 14 months, were ordered to be jailed until the next session of their trial on March 9.

Prosecutors say Cumhuriyet was effectively taken over by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric blamed by the government for last year’s failed coup. The newspaper and staff have denied the charges and say they are being targeted to silence critics of President Tayyip Erdogan.

Monday’s hearing included drama in court, when the judge ordered Sik removed from the hearing for making political comments.

Sik, who wrote a book critical of Gulen’s movement at a time when it was an ally of the government, described Turkish authorities as “an authoritarian regime dedicated to cruelty”, according to the newspaper.

After he was ordered out, Sik said the case itself was political. “The days will come where you will be tried, do not forget this,” he said, according to Cumhuriyet.

“I hope you won’t be tried in a court like yours.”

The court said the next hearing will be held in Silivri courthouse, the site of a large prison about 60 km (40 miles) west of Istanbul, to ensure security and order.

The Turkish authorities have launched a crackdown since the failed 2016 coup, which they blame on followers of Gulen, who denies involvement. More than 150,000 police, teachers, university lecturers, journalists and other professionals have been sacked or suspended from their jobs and 50,000 people have been arrested.

Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans