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7 staff members of opposition newspaper leave Turkish jail

7 staff members of opposition newspaper leave Turkish jail
Journalists and others gather outside a court in Istanbul on Friday to protest the trial of journalists from the Cumhuriyet newspaper. (Emrah Gurel / Associated Press)

Seven staff members of an opposition newspaper were released from a Turkish jail early Saturday pending the outcome of their trial on charges of allegedly aiding terror organizations.

A court ruled for the release of Cumhuriyet newspaper's cartoonist Musa Kart and six others Friday, but ordered four others to remain held.

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The daily newspaper is staunchly opposed to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and is one of the few remaining outlets in Turkey critical of the government.

Nineteen defendants went on trial Monday on charges that they aided outlawed organizations, including Kurdish militants, a far-left group and the network of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom the government blames for a failed coup last year.

Upon being released from prison, Kart told reporters they had been imprisoned for nine months for "unjust, lawless, baseless allegations." He said the indictment would collapse with their release.

Families and supporters embraced the journalists outside the prison on the outskirts of Istanbul. The terms of their release bar them from leaving Turkey.

"I thought I'd be very happy at the moment of my release," the 63-year-old cartoonist said. "Unfortunately, four of our friends are still in Silivri prison."

Cumhuriyet's editor in chief, Murat Sabuncu, investigative journalist Ahmet Sik, prominent columnist Kadri Gursel and chairman Akin Atalay remain behind bars.

The Cumhuriyet arrests are part of a wider crackdown in the aftermath of last summer's bloody coup attempt. More than 50,000 people have been imprisoned.

Critics say the crackdown that initially targeted people suspected of links to the failed coup has expanded to include government opponents. Among the jailed are opposition lawmakers, activists and more than 150 journalists.

The trial was adjourned until Sept. 11.

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