ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court released prominent journalist Kadri Gursel from jail pending trial late on Monday, in a case that targets the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper and has been condemned by critics of President Tayyip Erdogan as an attack on free speech.
Television footage showed Gursel hugging his wife and colleagues as he emerged from jail at Silivri, west of Istanbul after some 330 days in custody.
“This is not something to be really happy about. There are Cumhuriyet staff who have been jailed due to unjust, baseless allegations,” Gursel told reporters outside the jail.
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 attempted coup, and that the paper was used to target Erdogan and “veil the actions of terrorist groups.”
The newspaper and staff have denied the charges.
Four more prominent staff of Cumhuriyet, correspondents and executives, remained in custody after the third hearing in the case, including editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu. The rest of the 17 defendants are free pending trial.
Prosecutors are seeking up to 43 years in jail for the newspaper staff, who stand accused of targeting Erdogan through “asymmetric war methods.”
Social media posts comprised the bulk of evidence in the indictment, along with allegations that staff had been in contact with users of Bylock, an encrypted messaging app the government says was used by Gulen’s followers.
Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have complained of deteriorating human rights under Erdogan. In the crackdown since last July’s failed coup, 50,000 people have been jailed pending trial and some 150,000 detained or dismissed from their jobs.
Around 150 media outlets have been shut down and 160 journalists jailed, the Turkish Journalists Association says.
Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore