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Journalists go on trial in Turkey

March 25, 2016

Two Turkish journalists are standing trial on charges of espionage and aiding a terror organization. They were detained after publishing a video purportedly showing government weapons deliveries to Syria's civil war.

Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, right, with Ankara representative Erdem Gul.
Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, right, with Ankara representative Erdem GulImage: picture-alliance/AP Photo/C. Erok

The two journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper appeared in an Istanbul court on Friday, facing life imprisonment for allegedly revealing state secrets.

Shortly after the proceedings got underway, the prosecutor asked that the hearing be closed to the public in a request that was granted by the judge.

Can Dundar, the paper's editor-in-chief, and Ankara correspondent Erdem Gul were arrested in November after publishing a video purportedly showing Turkish trucks transporting weapons over the border to Syrian militants. The report sparked an outcry, and gave rise to speculation about the government's role in the Syrian conflict and its alleged ties to Islamist groups in the country.

The journalists spent three months in prison before the Constitutional Court ordered the pair released pending trial. Following the decision, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the court and vowed the journalists would pay a "heavy price" for their reporting.

Before appearing in court Friday, Dundar, 54, told Reuters he would use the trial to refocus attention on the story.

"We will lay out all of the illegalities and make this a political prosecution ... The state was caught in a criminal act, and it is doing all that it can to cover it up."

Cumhuriyet journalists go on trial in Turkey

Call for charges to be dropped

In the lead-up to the trial, international media advocacy groups and human rights organizations called on Turkey to drop all charges against the journalists.

"The trial of Dundar and Gul is a test for the state of law in Turkey," Christophe Deloire, secretary-general of Reporters Without Borders, said.

"Their release was encouraging, but things are only beginning now," he added.

Meanwhile, more than 100 prominent writers, including Nobel laureates, have written an open letter to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanding an end to what they describe as a crackdown on media freedoms.

"We believe that Can Dundar and Erdem Gul are facing life in prison simply for carrying out their legitimate work as journalists," the letter said.

Freedom of the press

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

Human rights groups say Turkey's authoritarian government is increasingly seeking to stifle opposition press and critical voices in the country. Several news outlets have been seized by the government and handed over to businesses close to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). A number of journalists have been fired for criticizing the government, while more than a dozen have been imprisoned.

Most recently, the government this month seized control of the country's biggest opposition newspaper "Zaman." In that case, the paper's headquarters were stormed by police and the paper's editors were sacked and replaced.

Infografik Timeline Türkei Press crackdown November 2015 Englisch

nm/jil (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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