ISTANBUL (AP) — Two opposition journalists went on trial in Turkey for a second time on Wednesday, accused of aiding the movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen that the government has branded a terror organization.
The former editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, Can Dundar, and the left-leaning, pro-secular paper’s Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, were sentenced to five years in prison in May for revealing state secrets for their reports on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syrian rebels. The two are appealing the verdict which increased concerns over media freedoms in Turkey.
In the new trial that opened on Wednesday, the two face up to three years in prison on charges of “knowingly and willingly” aiding the Gulen movement through last year’s reports on the alleged arms smuggling and the photographs that accompanied the Cumhuriyet stories.
The two journalists deny the accusation, insisting they published the reports and images out of journalistic concerns.
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“This is considered journalism everywhere in the world, and the activity which is on trial today is journalism,” Gul told reporters outside the courthouse.
Their case is being watched by international journalism groups which have expressed unease over the prosecution of journalists in Turkey over terror charges.
“All they (journalists) are here for is because they have been doing their jobs. And their job, as professional journalists, is to bring the truth to people, and hold truth to those in power,” said Barry White of the International Federation of Journalists and European Federation of Journalists. “The attack on press freedom and the right of the public to know is an attack on democracy, and it is democracy that is also on trial here today.”
The images that were published in Cumhuriyet reportedly date back to January 2014, when authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, touching off a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials.
The government accuses Gulen followers of stopping the trucks in a bid to cause it harm.
It has also accused Gulen of masterminding Turkey’s July 15 failed coup and has embarked on a massive crackdown, detaining some 40,000 for links to the attempted coup and suspending or dismissing tens of thousands of others from government jobs for suspected ties to the cleric. Dozens of media outlets affiliated with Gulen have been closed down and some journalists who worked at these outlets have been jailed.
During the hearing Wednesday, the court decided to merge the trial with that against opposition legislator Enis Berberoglu, who prosecutors accuse of being a “source” for the reports and adjourned the case until Nov. 16.
Dundar, who is abroad, did not attend the opening hearing.
Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed