Turkish court decides to continue trial of Cumhuriyet journalists without arrest

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Two leading editors of the Cumhuriyet daily appeared before an İstanbul court on Friday, in the trial in which they are accused of “espionage” after publishing an article on the alleged transportation of weapons to radical groups in Syria by Turkish intelligence, with the court ordering to continue their trial without arrest.

The editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, Can Dündar, and the paper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gül were released on Feb. 26, pending trial, after the Constitutional Court said their imprisonment amounted to rights violation.

Defending himself during the second hearing on Friday, Dündar said that he and Gül were answering for the crimes committed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.

Referring to the incident of an alleged illegal arms transfers to Syria, Dündar said: “What happened amounts to both national and international crime. They [the judiciary] put those who made the crime public on trial instead of those who actually committed the crime.”

He added, “We are answering for the crimes committed by the government. We are the real complainants here, and the complainants are the real suspects [of the alleged arms transfer to Syria]. Those who are seen as complainants now but actually committed the crime will definitely be put on trial one day.”

Dündar also said they have done nothing but journalism, adding: “If a government – including even the president and the prime minister – lies [to its own citizens], it is our right to make it public. Those who transferred the arms may have committed “espionage,” it amounts to treason and they will answer for it.”

The prosecutor did not request the arrest of the two journalists and the court ruled that the two journalists be tried without arrest.

The EU consul-generals did not attend the second hearing of the case, after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the British Consul General Leigh Turner and other consul-generals over attending the first trial last Friday.

Turner showed up at the hearing last Friday to support Dündar and took the chance to take have a picture taken with the journalist to later post on his social media account, as a show of solidarity.

On Saturday Erdoğan blasted Turner saying, “Yesterday [Friday] there was the hearing of a journalist. The Consul Generals in İstanbul were at the hearing. Who are you? What business do you have there?” whilst speaking at the World Turkish Entrepreneurs Assembly hosted by the World Turkish Business Council (DTİK).

“This is not your country” Erdoğan continued. “This is Turkey. You are allowed to move around the consulate building or the borders of the consulate, anything else is subject to permission. These [Consuls] are brazen enough to violate their limitations by making an appearance [at the courthouse].”

“Those who constantly speak of democracy, human rights, freedoms, are showing who they choose to side with when confronted with the choice of being with the elected [government] or those with a pro-coup mindset” he said.

Dündar and Gül were arrested on Nov. 26, 2015 on charges of membership in a terrorist organization, espionage and revealing confidential documents — charges that could keep them in prison for life. The charges stem from a terrorism investigation launched after Cumhuriyet in May of last year published photos of weapons it said were being transferred to Syria in trucks operated by MİT.

President Erdoğan, who has cast the newspaper’s coverage as part of an attempt to undermine Turkey’s global standing, said he would not forgive such reporting.

He has acknowledged that the trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border, belonged to the MİT and said they were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria.

Dündar and Gül petitioned to the top court approximately two months ago, asking to be released. The Constitutional Court, which heard an appeal made by the two journalists on Feb.17, sent the files to its general secretariat for a ruling. The preliminary examination of the journalists’ petition was done by a five-member team from the top court.

In their petition, Dündar and Gül mentioned the fifth and tenth articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, which concern the right to liberty and security, as well as Article 19 of the Turkish Constitution, which concerns freedom of expression, and Articles 26 and 28 of the Constitution, which guarantee that everyone has the right to express and disseminate his/her thoughts and opinions in speech, writing, pictures or through other media, individually or collectively, were violated in their case.

Earlier this month, the rapporteur of the court submitted a report on his opinion regarding individual petitions filed by Dündar and Gül, saying the journalists have been subjected to violations of their rights.

On Feb. 26, the Constitutional Court ruled that the rights of the pair had been violated through arrest, leading to their release pending trial after three months of incarceration. The ruling also stated “Their freedom of expression and freedom of press” was violated. Upon the top court’s decision, the criminal court handling the case removed the order of arrest.

A staunchly pro-government newspaper claimed earlier this month that the two editors may be re-arrested in the upcoming hearing of their trial.

The Star daily claimed in a report that the Constitutional Court “usurped” the authority of the local court hearing the case against Dündar and Gül, who are accused of espionage and revealing state secrets. Recalling that the next haring in their trial is scheduled for March 25, the daily said the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court “will be able to” rule for the arrest of the two journalists if it cites new evidence.

Despite the Constitutional Court ruling, Dündar and Gül still face trial. The indictment against the two journalists seeks an aggravated life sentence, a life sentence and 30 years of imprisonment on separate charges including “obtaining and revealing secret information pertaining to the security of the state for espionage purposes,” “seeking to overthrow the Turkish government” and “aiding an armed terrorist organization.”

The imprisonment of the two journalists for what was merely journalistic activity has attracted severe criticism from press organizations and journalism groups in Turkey and around the world.

In order to show their solidarity with the jailed journalists, some Turkish journalists launched a vigil called “Wait for Hope” in early December in front of İstanbul’s Silivri Prison where Dündar and Gül are jailed.

So far, dozens of journalists, artists and celebrities have taken shifts at the vigil.

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