ANKARA (Reuters) - Eighteen Turkish journalists have been charged with spreading terrorist propaganda for publishing a photo of a legal official held at gunpoint by far-left militants in March, local media said, heightening concerns about Turkey’s press freedom record.
Prosecutors have asked for jail terms of up to 7 1/2 years each for staff from nine newspapers, accusing them in an indictment of trying to portray a terrorist organization “strong and capable enough for any action,” according to the reports.
The picture of militants holding a gun to the head of Istanbul prosecutor Mehmet Selim Kiraz, who was later killed in a shoot-out, spread widely online.
Turkish authorities initially ordered Facebook, Google and other sites to remove it, triggering accusations by academics and rights groups of an authoritarian crackdown.
Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of the daily Cumhuriyet newspaper and one of the journalists charged, has said he had intended the photo to portray the dark and ugly face of terrorism.
Journalists and editors from dailies Millet, Sok, Posta, Yurt, Bugun, Ozgur Gundem, Aydinlik and Birgun were also named in the indictment, and all had pleaded not guilty, media reported on Wednesday.
Prosecutors asked for prison sentences ranging from 18 months to 7 1/2 years in the indictment issued on Tuesday, according to the reports.
President Tayyip Erdogan said in January that Turkish journalists were freer than any in Europe.
But authorities have frequently used broadly defined anti-terrorism laws to prosecute reporters, and dozens still face legal action for referring to a corruption scandal which erupted around Erdogan’s inner circle in December 2013.
Turkey languishes near the bottom of international press freedom tables. The European Union, which Turkey aspires to join, has said harassment of the press violates its human rights criteria.
The photo was initially released by the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party-Front (DHKP-C) that said it took Kiraz hostage.
Editing by Humeyra Pamuk and Andrew Heavens