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Turkish penal court says Reuters journalists should stay in detention

Turkish penal courts decided to keep two jailed journalists, Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay, in detention
A protester holds a poster of Mehmet Altan outside a Turkish court in June 2017 (AFP)

Turkish penal courts decided to keep two jailed journalists in detention, state-run news agency Anadolu said on Thursday, hours after a top court had requested they be released because their rights had been violated while in custody.

Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay, jailed for more than year amid large-scale purges of the media and state institutions after a failed 2016 coup, were accused of links to terrorist groups and attempting to overthrow the government, charges they deny.

Separate penal courts decided to reject the Constitutional Court ruling that they should be freed.

Sezgin Tanrikulu, a lawmaker from the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), said on Twitter that the penal courts' refusal to release the two was not legal and that they were being falsely imprisoned.

'The (court) should take a step to ensure the freedom of all arrested journalists'

- Baris Yarkadas, MP for opposition CHP party

Officials at the court were not available for comment. Lawyers for the journalists did not immediately respond for requests for comment.

The two men, along with a third journalist, Turhan Gunay, had argued their arrests were illegal and their rights and freedoms had been violated in pre-trial detention. Eleven of the court's judges ruled in their favour, and six against, the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper reported.

Gunay, a Cumhuriyet journalist, had already been released in September in a decision reached in a separate case. The court ruled on Thursday that Gunay's rights were also violated by his time in detention, Cumhuriyet said.

Altan, a professor of economics and a frequent commentator in liberal media, and Alpay, a columnist, were jailed in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, when Erdogan launched wide-ranging purges that put more than 50,000 people in jail and led to the closure of more than 130 media outlets.

Around 160 journalists have been jailed, according to the Turkish Journalists Association. International media groups say Turkey is now the world's largest jailer of journalists.

Many of the jailed reporters have been charged with spreading propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) or the network of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara accuses of masterminding the abortive putsch.

Legal precedent

Alpay wrote for the now-defunct Zaman, which was accused of being the Gulen movement's flagship newspaper before its seizure and subsequent closure by authorities.

Gulen, a former Erdogan ally, has lived in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1999. He has denied orchestrating the coup and condemned it as against democracy.

Lawyers have said the case could set a legal precedent for how the court treats other reporters - including foreigners - now in jail in Turkey.

"The decision by the Constitutional cCurt on Mehmet Altan and Sahin Alpay is correct, but insufficient," Baris Yarkadas, an MP for the opposition CHP party said on Twitter. "The (court) should take a step to ensure the freedom of all arrested journalists. It should carry out its mission and end victimisation."

Erdogan has said that some journalists helped nurture terrorists through their writing.

"Terror doesn't form by itself," he said last week at a joint news conference with his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron.

"Terror and terrorists have gardeners. These gardeners are those people viewed as thinkers."

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