Turkey: musician, journalists sentenced for 'terror' links

ANKARA, Turkey — A court on Thursday convicted a musician-turned-newspaper columnist of "knowingly and willingly" aiding the network led by U.S.-based Mulim cleric Fethullah Gulen and sentenced him to three years and one month in prison, Turkey's state-run news agency reported.

Singer Atilla Tas, who wrote a newspaper column and became a social media phenomenon for posting satirical tweets about President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was on trial along with 28 other defendants — mostly journalists — accused of having links to Gulen, whom Turkey blames for a 2016 failed coup attempt. Gulen rejects the accusation.

The court in Istanbul also convicted journalist Murat Aksoy of aiding Gulen's group and sentenced him to two years and one month in prison. Other defendants were convicted of membership in a "terror organization" and were given prison sentences ranging between six and seven-and-a-half years, Anadolu Agency reported.

One defendant was acquitted while no verdict was issued against three defendants who are on the run and were on trial in absentia. They include Said Sefa who allegedly used the pseudonym Fuat Avni on Twitter to post taunting anti-Erdogan tweets and provided alleged insider information on the government.

The defendants, many of whom worked for media companies associated with Gulen, were expected to appeal the court's ruling.

Tas, who has already served jail time, was not expected to return to prison.

The singer said on Twitter: "The judicial process has not ended. I believe that I will be acquitted in the end, you should believe it too. I did nothing other than oppose (the government)."

Turkey declared a state of emergency following the July 15, 2016, attempted coup and proceeded to crack down on Gulen's movements and other government critics.

More than 100 journalists were imprisoned and some 150 media outlets closed down. Tens of thousands of people are in jail and mass trials are being held. More than 110,000 others have been sacked from government jobs.

Erdogan's government says the crackdown is necessary to restore stability in Turkey.

Last month, prominent journalists Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan and Nazli Ilicak were sentenced to life in prison without parole, accused of involvement in the coup attempt.

The Reporters Without Borders group has ranked Turkey 151st out of 180 countries on its press freedom index.

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