In a verdict certain to have a chilling effect on journalism in Turkey, political cartoonist Musa Kart and 13 of his fellow staffers were sentenced to jail this week. The defendants all worked for Cumhuriyet, a Turkish newspaper critical of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. The official charge was that of “aiding a terror group without being a member.”
The 14 convicted were released, pending an appeal. Among those, was editor-in chief of Cumhuriyet Murat Sabuncu. The Washington Post wrote
Outside the courthouse, Sabuncu called the verdict an “attack” on journalists aimed to “stop us from doing journalism in Turkey, to make us fearful when we’re doing journalism in Turkey.” He said they would continue their work even if they have to go back to prison.
The defendants were previously imprisoned for 9 months, for the charges they have only just now been convicted of, following a failed 2016 coup d’état. While they were arrested for supposedly supporting Kurdish militants and the Gulenist movement, there were no indictments brought for months, leaving the journalists languishing in jail without being able to see their families, or any hope of trial. Their currrent sentences range from two and a half to seven and a half years. It is unclear whether their time served will be taken into account.
This isn’t Musa Kart’s first run-in with President Erdoğan or oppression of artistic freedom. Kart has long been a critical of the President. He won the 2005 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award from Cartoonists Rights Network International after he successfully fought a lawsuit over a cartoon depicting the then-Prime Minister as “a kitten entangled in a ball of yarn.” In 2014 he was again acquitted after Erdoğan sued over another cartoon that criticized his apparent role in a graft scandal.