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Turkish court takes journalist espionage trial behind closed doors

Two Turkish journalists in court on controversial espionage charges have had their trial barred from the public. The decision has sparked international outrage, with reactions coming in from around the world.

The trial of

two Turkish journalists

accused of revealing state secrets and helping a terror organization was adjourned Friday after opposition lawmakers refused to leave the courthouse in defiance of a ruling saying that the case should be held behind closed doors, citing "national security" concerns.

The judges filed a complaint against these legislators for attempting to influence the trial.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan Getty Images/AFP/A.Altan

Erdogan has said the two journalists would pay a "heavy price" for their reporting

"Cumhuriyet" newspaper's chief editor Can Dundar and his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul are on trial for publishing images reportedly dating back to January 2014, showing Syria-bound trucks allegedly smuggling arms to Islamist rebels in Syria.

The journalists were arrested last November after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally filed a complaint against them.

Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled in February that

their rights were being violated

, leading to their release from jail ahead of the trial. The two journalists face life imprisonment if found guilty of charges of espionage and of aiding the Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Speaking to reporters at the courthouse, Dundar said he hoped the court would take the high court's previous ruling into account and drop the charges.

"The Constitutional Court has already said that this news is not an act of terrorism but an act of journalism. So this judge, we hope, will approve this decision and drop [this] case," he said.

Frank Nordhausen, a German foreign correspondent based in Istanbul, wrote on Twitter that the "trial is about who rules the country: the law or the president."

The case has been adjourned until April 1. Erdogan has said that the pair would eventually pay a "heavy price" for their reporting and later stressed that he

did "not respect" the Constitutional Court ruling

leading to the release of the two journalists.

Mysterious cargo

Turkey's private Dogan news agency also said that the court accepted a request saying that the Turkish president and national intelligence organization MIT should also be treated as plaintiffs in the divisive case - in addition to agreeing to hold the trial behind closed doors.

Dundar's lawyer argued, however, that the whole trial can't be held in secret, according to Emma Sinclair-Webb of Human Rights Watch, as the only evidence against the journalists is their writing.

The government initially denied claims saying that the trucks depicted in the images shown by "Cumhuriyet" were carrying arms, maintaining that the cargo consisted of humanitarian aid. Some officials later suggested, however, that the trucks were indeed carrying arms or ammunition destined for Turkmen kinsmen in Syria, whose ties to militant organizations remain unclear.

Erdogan has acknowledged that the trucks, seen in the pictures as stopped by police officers en route to the Syrian border, belonged to the MIT intelligence agency and said they were carrying deliveries, which he described as "aid," to Turkmens in Syria.

International reactions

Around 200 people, including a number of journalists and opposition lawmakers, greeted the reporters as heroes on their arrival at the court on Friday. Several EU diplomats including the German ambassador also attended the start of the trial.

"We are here to defend journalism," Dundar, 54, told reporters.

Christophe Deloire, the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, criticized the Turkish authorities for treating journalists as a threat to the country when Turkey continues to face real terrorism, as highlighted by recent attacks in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara.

Deloire also criticized Erdogan for spearheading attacks against the media and thus creating an "atmosphere of fear."

"To judge journalists in camera is further proof that Turkish authorities and President Erdogan have something to hide," Deloire said. Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries for press freedom in 2015.

Johannes Hahn, the EU commissioner for enlargement, wrote on Twitter that the trial was a "test case for press freedom and rule of law in Turkey."

"Today is another one of those days when we wonder if the EU has had any effect at all on Turkey," said Andrew Duff, a former member of the European Parliament from Britain.

A representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists also came to Turkey to attend the hearing.

"They have done nothing wrong but committed the act of journalism," said Nina Ognianova.

In an open letter to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on the eve of the trial, more than 100 leading authors, including Margaret Atwood of Canada and Maria Vargas Llosa of Peru, called for the charges to be dropped.

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