Protesters demonstrate against arrest of Turkish opposition journalists

A court charged the journalists with spying after they alleged Turkey intelligence covertly sent arms to Syrian rebels

Afp November 27, 2015
A handout picture released by Turkey's Cumhuriyet daily shows Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar (R) being escorted by anti-terror police officers inside a civil car to Silivri Prison after appearing in court in Istanbul on November 26, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

ISTANBUL: Over 1,000 protesters on Friday staged a demonstration outside the Istanbul premises of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper against the arrest of the paper's two journalists, accused of spying over a news report.

The protesters who included journalists and opposition MPs chanted slogans: "Shoulder to shoulder against fascism," and "Tayyip thief, Tayyip liar, Tayyip killer," referring to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Dozens of protesters also gathered outside the Ankara office of the daily.

An Istanbul court on Thursday charged Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, with spying after they alleged Turkey's intelligence had covertly sent arms to rebels in Syria.

Both men are accused of "divulging state secrets" and placed in pre-trial detention.

The opposition daily had reported that Turkish security forces in January 2014 intercepted a convoy of trucks near the Syrian border and discovered boxes of what it described as weapons and ammunition to be sent to rebels fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

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The footage was published on the newspaper's website in May depicting police opening crates of weapons and ammunition on the back of trucks which the daily claimed belonged to the Turkish Intelligence Organisation (MIT).

The report sparked a furore in Turkey, fuelling speculation about the government's murky role in Syria.

Turkey, a vocal critic of the regime in Damascus, has fiercely rejected aiding rebels in the war-torn country.

An angry Erdogan said at the time Dundar would "pay a high price".

Reporters Without Borders ranked Turkey 149th out of 180 in its 2015 press freedom index last month, warning of a "dangerous surge in censorship".

The US Embassy in Ankara voiced concerns over the arrests, in a Twitter message.

"We are very concerned by the arrests .... and what appears to be yet another media outlet under pressure," the embassy posted on Friday.

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"We hope the Turkish courts & authorities will uphold the fundamental principle of media freedom enshrined in the Turkish Constitution."

The European Union said the journalists' arrests were "worrying".

"We are of course following these worrying developments very closely," European Commission foreign affairs spokesperson Maja Kocijancic told a daily briefing, two days before EU and Turkish leaders meet in Brussels.

"Freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles for the EU (and) ... we have raised these concerns repeatedly with the Turkish authorities," Kocijancic said.


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