NINETEEN journalists and staff from the newspaper Cumhuriyet, including editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, were put on trial in Istanbul yesterday, accused of aiding terror organisations in a case that adds to concerns for rights and freedoms in Turkey.

Investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, commentator Kadri Gursel and cartoonist Musa Kart are also among the 19.

They are accused of sponsoring several outlawed organisations including Kurdish militants, a far-left group and the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is blamed for last July’s failed coup.

Twelve of the defendants are in jail while five were released from custody pending the outcome of the trial.

Some Cumhuriyet staff members have been in prison for nine months. They face a variety of prison terms ranging up to 43 years.

Those questioned yesterday, including Mr Gursel, denied the accusations against them.

Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the court building demanding their acquittal and release.

Turkey’s journalism union members also marched from the newspaper’s office to the court, brandishing yesterday’s edition of the paper.

The Cumhuriyet arrests were part of a widespread and ongoing government crackdown in the wake of the coup attempt that has led to the imprisonment of more than 50,000 people, including journalists, opposition politicians and activists.

The crackdown, which initially targeted people suspected of links to the failed coup has expanded to include government opponents.

About 160 journalists are now in jail, mostly on terrorism-related charges, while more than 150 media outlets have been shut down, leaving thousands unemployed.

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