(Changes sourcing, adds quote from lawyer, background)
ISTANBUL, Nov 21 (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Thursday upheld its conviction of 12 former employees of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper despite a higher court ruling, a lawyer for the newspaper said.
The court acquitted a 13th defendant, journalist Kadri Gursel, due to a ruling by the Constitutional Court, Turkey’s highest, said the lawyer, Tora Pekin.
In a case that drew global outrage over press freedom under President Tayyip Erdogan, 14 employees of Cumhuriyet - one of the few remaining voices critical of the government - were sentenced in April 2018 to various jail terms on terrorism charges.
They were accused of supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front militant groups, as well as the network of U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who Ankara says organised a 2016 failed coup. Gulen denies any involvement.
The Cumhuriyet staff have been in and out of jail for the duration of their trials. The 14th defendant, Cumhuriyet accountant Emre Iper, was released last month and his case is still under court review.
The Court of Cassation, Turkey’s high court of appeals, had ruled in September for the 13 defendants to be acquitted, with the exception of journalist and politician Ahmet Sik. The court said Sik should be tried for a different crime.
The case of the 12 defendants will now be re-evaluated by the Court of Cassation, Pekin said.
“With the Court of Cassation ruling (in September), we thought this endless arbitrariness and injustice were ending. But we understood in court today that it wasn’t so,” said Pekin.
Since the failed coup, authorities have jailed 77,000 people pending trial, while 150,000, including civil servants, judges, military personnel and others have been sacked or suspended from their jobs. Some 150 media outlets have also been closed.
A global press watchdog said on Tuesday more than 120 journalists were still being held in Turkey’s jails, a global record.
Turkey’s Western allies have voiced concern over the scale of the crackdown. Rights groups accuse Erdogan of using the coup as a pretext to quash dissent. (Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen Editing by Ece Toksabay and Gareth Jones)