Saturday 21 July 2018

Turkish journalists back in court on espionage charges

Erdem Gul and Can Dundar face espionage charges in Istanbul (AP)
Erdem Gul and Can Dundar face espionage charges in Istanbul (AP)

A closed-door trial of two Turkish journalists accused of espionage and aiding a terrorist organisation has resumed, amid concerns over press freedoms in the country.

The Cumhuriyet newspaper's chief editor Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul face life imprisonment if found guilty of revealing state secrets over their reports on alleged government arms-smuggling to Syrian rebels.

The pair are accused of aiding the moderate Islamic movement led by US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, an opponent of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Their supporters outside the Istanbul courthouse chanted: "Free press cannot be silenced."

The case is seen as a bellwether over the future of press freedom in Turkey, which has witnessed a growing crackdown on independent and opposition media over the past few years.

The pair published images that reportedly date back to January 2014, when local authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, leading to a stand-off with Turkish intelligence officials.

Cumhuriyet said the images proved Turkey was smuggling arms to Islamist rebels.

Human rights group say the two were only doing their jobs and the charges should be dropped.

"The ones who should be on trial are not us," Dundar said, before the start of the second hearing.

The journalists were arrested in November after Mr Erdogan filed a personal complaint.

In February, Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that their rights were violated and they were released from jail, but Mr Erdogan said he rejected the court's decision.

The Turkish president is facing increased criticism for his government's crackdown on free speech at home.

Speaking in Washington DC on Thursday, Mr Erdogan insisted no journalist is in prison or on trial in his country because of their journalism work.

He also said he welcomed criticism, but would not tolerate insults.

Press Association

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