Sun, Apr 03, 2016 - Page 6 News List

Reporters defiant as spying case continues

AFP, ISTANBUL, Turkey

Two Turkish journalists accused of spying remained defiant on the second day of their trial on Friday, in a case seen as a test of press freedom.

Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of leading opposition daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, his Ankara bureau chief, are also charged with revealing state secrets over a story accusing the government of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeking to illicitly deliver arms to rebels in Syria.

The pair could face life in prison, but a defiant Dundar voiced optimism that they would be found not guilty at the Istanbul criminal court.

“We will win. We have always won throughout history,” the bespectacled editor told reporters. “We think the laws will show we are right and we will be acquitted.”

The prosecution has sparked outrage among opposition and rights groups in Turkey as well as in the West.

US President Barack Obama on Friday said he was troubled by Turkey’s clampdown on press freedom, the day after meeting Erdogan at the White House.

“It’s no secret that there are some trends within Turkey that I have been troubled with,” Obama said. “I think the approach they have been taking toward the press is one that could lead Turkey down a path that would be very troubling.”

Reporters Without Borders last year ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 countries for press freedom, citing the widening clampdown on critics of the president.

Turkish police last month seized control of top-selling opposition daily Zaman, drawing international condemnation.

As on the first day of the trial, which opened on Friday last week, the hearing in Istanbul was held behind closed doors for reasons of national security.

“It’s journalism that is on trial here. This trial should not be taking place,” Gul said. “We are defending information and freedom of expression. Justice will take its course.”

“There is no reason for this trial — journalism is not a crime,” he said.

A knot of supporters including opposition lawmakers and non-governmental organization staff members gathered outside the court, shouting: “You can’t gag press freedom.”

The pair were not remanded in custody when the court was adjourned, but they are forbidden from leaving the country before the trial resumes on April 22.

Cumhuriyet’s report on a shipment of arms being intercepted at the Syrian border in January 2014 sparked a furore when it was published in May, fueling speculation about Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict and its alleged ties to Muslim militant groups in the country.

Erdogan responded to the allegations by telling Dundar he would “pay a heavy price.”

The court on Friday last week accepted the president and Turkey’s intelligence agency as civil plaintiffs in the case.

Dundar and Gul won a first victory on Feb. 26, when the Hungarian Constitutional Court ruled they should be freed.

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