" --IANS/AKI"
Istanbul, July 25 (IANS/AKI) Seventeen staff reporters and directors of the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet were among 19 people who went on trial in Turkey on Monday charged with aiding armed groups.

We want justice, ran a Cumhuriyet frontpage headline on Monday announcing the trial,which opened in Istanbul amid chaotic scenes outside the courthouse.

Eleven of the Cumhuriyet suspects are in custody, including cartoonist Musa Kart, columnist Kadri Gursel and investigative journalist Ahmet Sik.

Also on trial are a US-based reporter and an administrator of the microblogging website Twitter.

Charges against the suspects include accusations Cumhuriyet's journalists aided the separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) and the movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, which is widely believed in Turkey to have orchestrated last year's failed coup.

Supporters of the accused are adamant the trial is political and part of Turkey's ongoing attempt to muzzle freedom of expression and stifle dissent.

If found guilty this week, the defendants could face sentences of up to 43 years in jail. Ten have already been in pre-trial detention for almost nine months.

Around 170 Turkish media outlets have been shut down since Islamist-leaning president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party launched a crackdown following the mid-July 2016 botched coup which has led to the arrests of 55,000 people, described by Cumhuriyet as a witch hunt.

The staunchly secularist Cumhuriyet is one of a small handful of remaining opposition newspapers in Turkey and the trial will be keenly watched by rights organisations at home and abroad, including the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Turkey is currently listed as the country with the biggest number of imprisoned journalists, ahead of China and Egypt. Journalism organisations say more than 150 journalists are behind bars, most of them accused of terror charges.

The Turkish government denies the figure.

--IANS/AKI

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