Turkish journalists released by court pending trial

Turkish journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul released prior to trial, facing possible life sentences for espionage and attempting to overthrow government

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, accompanied by his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul, speaks to the media after being released from prison outside the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul, Turkey early February 26, 2016.

The editor-in-chief of Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dundar, and its Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gul, on Friday were released pending a trial after Turkey’s highest court said that their rights had been violated.

Despite their release, the two journalists are still facing possible life sentences from a trial which is due to start on March 25. They are also banned from leaving the country.

Dundar and Gul were arrested on Nov. 26 on charges of espionage and aiding a terror organisation after publishing material in violation of state security.

The newspaper - where the two journalists work - published photographs and video footage that purported to show trucks belonging to the Turkish Intelligence Service (MIT) allegedly helping to send weapons to Syria.

In January 2014, several trucks were stopped by local gendarmes in Turkey's southern Adana and Hatay provinces, who alleged that they were carrying ammunition and weapons, although such a search is forbidden according to national security law. After the incident 26 soldiers involved in the illegal search were arrested.

At the time of the incident Turkey’s Interior Ministry stated that the trucks were carrying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community in the war-torn country.

Following the arrest, the two journalists petitioned the Constitutional Court for their release, saying that their rights had been violated.

The Constitutional Court’s ruling on Thursday passed with 12 votes in favour and three against. The ruling said that the men’s rights to "individual freedom and safety," "freedom to express and spread ideas" and "freedom of the press" had been violated.

Istanbul's 14th High Criminal Court then decided to free the journalists on conditions of trial without arrest.

The 473-page indictment prepared by Istanbul deputy public prosecutor Irfan Fidan in late January called for Dundar and Gul to be sentenced to 35 years in prison on charges of "aiding an armed terror organisation."

In the indictment Dundar was accused of trying to legitimise Dec. 17-25, 2013 "coup attempts" and cooperating with what the government designates the Gulenist Terror Organization/Parallel State Structure, or FETO/PDY, through his articles.

The indictment also claimed that the suspects were writing false articles, based on footage provided by FETO/PDY, despite the fact that there is no accurate information or documents associating "the Republic of Turkey and its government with terror."

The term "parallel state" refers to US-based preacher Fethullah Gulen and his supporters who are accused of orchestrating a corruption probe that targeted high-ranking Turkish officials in December 2013.

Since then, hundreds of police officers have been detained and judicial members reshuffled on charges of eavesdropping on Turkey's top officials, disclosing highly sensitive information, forming and belonging to an organisation to commit crime, violating privacy, illegally seizing personal information and forgery of official documents.

TRTWorld and agencies