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Five Cumhuriyet journalists ordered released from jail in Turkey

Cumhuriyet daily's cartoonist Musa Kart stands with colleagues as they attend a demonstration at the courthouse in Istanbul on 15 March 2018 (AFP)

Five prominent Turkish journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper have been ordered released from jail following a ruling from the country's top appeals court.

The Court of Appeals on Thursday ordered the release of Guray Oz, Onder Celik, Musa Kart, Hakan Kara and Mustafa Kemal Gungor. But Emre Iper, the former accountant, is not expected to be released, according to lawyers. 

The journalists had been serving sentences of close to five years for "aiding and abetting terror groups without being a member". 

"After the court order, we expect the release of five former staff this evening," lawyer Tora Pekin told AFP.

The five were among 14 former Cumhuriyet staff, including journalists and executives, sentenced in 2018 and their appeals were rejected by a lower appeals court earlier this year.

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They were accused of supporting, through their coverage, three organisations that Turkey views as terrorist groups: the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), the ultra-left Revolutionary People's Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C), and the Gulen movement blamed for the 2016 failed coup.

The case has sparked criticism over the state of press freedom in Turkey.

Cumhuriyet, the country's oldest daily founded in 1924, is a rare Turkish paper that is not in the hands of a business tycoon but by an independent foundation.

The daily has often had trouble with government authorities, with its former editor-in-chief Can Dundar fleeing to Germany after being convicted in 2016 over an article alleging that Turkey had supplied weapons to militant groups in Syria.

Turkey has been repeatedly branded the world's largest jailer of journalists.

According to the P24 press freedom group, there are 140 jailed journalists in Turkey, most of whom were held in the mass crackdown on suspected supporters of the failed coup.

Turkey is ranked 157 out of 180 countries in the 2018 World Press Freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).