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Erdogan lashes out at foreign diplomat over 'behavior' at journalist trial

Turkish President Erdogan has 'warned' Britain's Consul-General after he attended the closed-door trial of two Turkish journalists. Erdogan implied that foreign diplomats were only tolerated in Turkey at his discretion.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned British Consul-General Leigh Turner over his attendance of the espionage trial of two journalists, at which Turner also took a picture of himself with one of the two accused reporters.

"The consul general of a certain country went to the trial of a journalist charged with espionage, to support him. Moreover he gets a picture taken cheek to cheek with the journalist and had it published," Erdogan told the state-run Anadolu news agency. He added that, in other countries,

diplomats displaying such "behavior"

would supposedly not be tolerated for a day.

"If this person can still continue service in Turkey, it's only because of our generosity and hospitality."

Meanwhile Turner wrote in Turkish on Twitter that the trial was about "Turkey deciding for itself what kind of country it wants to be."

A heavy price

Can Dundar and Erdem Gul are currently on trial for publishing a report and a video in May 2015 about alleged arms shipments from Turkey to Syrian rebels associated with extremist groups in January 2014. The report, Erdogan alleges, also threatened the integrity of the Turkish Intelligence Service MIT.

The court had ruled earlier that the public would

not be allowed to watch the proceedings

, but several diplomats including Turner showed up at the courthouse in Istanbul last week Friday, the opening day of proceedings. Erdogan is a co-plaintiff in the trial, with charges including espionage, support of a terrorist organization and trying to topple the government.

Cumhuriyet building in Istanbul

Erdogan filed a police report on Dundar and Gul in person and vowed that they would pay a "heavy price" for their reporting in Cumhuriyet

Dundar and Gul already spent 92 days in jail in preparation for the trial, almost half of which was spent in solitary confinement. Turkey's Constitutional Court then ruled in February that the pre-trial detention had been unfounded.

"Being a journalist in Turkey, going to prison is part of your job and this was my short internship," Can Dundar told DW in an interview.

The two journalists face

life imprisonment

if found guilty during the closed-doors trial. Erdogan has vowed that Dundar will "pay a heavy price". Their case has brought international condemnation and raised concerns about freedom of the press in Turkey.

A test of press freedom

Anadolu also quoted Erdogan as saying, "Who are you? What business do you have there?" about the diplomats attending the trial. Diplomats only have free movement within their missions, the president added.

"This is not your country, (this is) Turkey."

A number of press freedom associations and human rights organizations meanwhile have called for the case against Dundar and Gul to be dropped, and EU officials have described the trial as a test of press freedom in Turkey.

Dundar himself told Deutsche Well that Erdogan wants to control all of the opposition media "and is taking them over one by one - of course, taking over a newspaper is a threat to all the others, it's a message that they should stay in line."

The office of EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said in a statement earlier in March that Turkey, as an EU candidate country, needed "to respect and promote high democratic standards and practices, including freedom of the media."

Turkey currently ranks 149th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.

ss/rc (dpa/Reuters)

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