Musa Kart and Colleagues Still in Prison Awaiting Indictment

Dewar cartoon

Erdoğan cartoon by Sue Dewar, Toronto Sun

It has now been over four months since Turkish cartoonist Musa Kart and several of his colleagues from Cumhuriyet newspaper were arrested on suspicion of supporting Kurdish militants and the Gulenist movement. There is little change to report in their situation, but that in itself is newsworthy: Turkey’s government has not yet managed to bring an indictment against them as they wait in prison.

More than a dozen Cumhuriyet staff members were initially detained in November amid allegations that the paper provided support for organizers of the country’s failed coup attempt in July. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the coup as cover for an increasing crackdown on media, academics, judges, and other public officials whose political views do not align with his own. Under the ongoing state of emergency still in force throughout the country, the detainees were also barred from meeting with their lawyers for five days. Eventually some of the staff members were released, but Kart and seven others remain behind bars.

According to Cartoonists Rights Network International, the detained journalists are being treated like hardened criminals even though they have not had the benefit of a trial:

While [Kart] and his  journalist colleagues have access to paper and pen, nothing is permitted to leave… nor may they receive letters. They may see their lawyers once a week for one hour and up to three of their family members, also for one hour a week. Inmates and visitors are separated by glass during family visits or accompanied by a prison officer doing lawyer visits and at all times any discussion is audio-recorded. Inmates are permitted a phone call once in fifteen days for a duration no longer than ten minutes.

Deputies from opposition political party CHP have taken up the prisoners’ cause, and party leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu recently met with their wives who asked him to advocate on their behalf. If the Turkish courts do not act soon on constitutional complaints filed by the journalists’ lawyers, those complaints will automatically be appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.

As CRNI notes, the delay in drawing up an indictment against Kart and his colleagues gives the lie to the Turkish government’s claim that they were arrested on “urgent matters of national security.” There never was any case to be made against Cumhuriyet, and the journalists should be immediately released.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.