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Turkish 'espionage' journalists freed pending further prosecution

Freed: Can Dundar (R), editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet and its Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul [Getty]

Date of publication: 26 February, 2016

Two Turkish journalists held in jail for the past three months on hugely controversial charges of revealing state secrets are released after Turkey's Constitutional Court rules their rights were violated.

Two journalists imprisoned for their reports on alleged government arms-smuggling to Syria were released from jail early on Friday, hours after Turkey's highest court ruled that their rights had been violated.

A large group of supporters greeted Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and the paper's Ankara representative, Erdem Gul, as they emerged from a van after being freed from Silivri prison on the outskirts of Istanbul.

The two were jailed in November, months after the centre-left opposition-leaning daily Cumhuriyet published what it said were images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants.

The images reportedly date back to January 2014, when local authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, touching off a standoff with Turkish intelligence officials.

The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels.

The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to Syrian rebels

The government initially denied the trucks were carrying arms, maintaining that the cargo consisted of humanitarian aid.

Some officials later suggested the trucks were carrying arms or ammunition destined for Turkmen groups in Syria.

The two were arrested after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally filed a complaint against them, leading to heightened concerns over conditions for journalists and media freedoms in Turkey.

The Constitutional Court ruled late on Thursday that authorities had violated Dundar's and Gul's personal rights as well as their rights to freedom of expression by jailing them.

Prosecutors, however, are seeking life prison terms for Dundar and Gul on charges of supporting a terror organisation, threatening state security and espionage for publishing state secrets.

They are accused of collaborating with a movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Islamic cleric who has become Erdogan's top foe.

The prosecutors' indictment accuses the two of working with the movement to create the image that the government was aiding terror groups in order to cripple its "ability to rule".

Government officials accuse Gulen's supporters of stopping the trucks as part of a plot to bring down the government.

The two were arrested after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally filed a complaint against them, leading to heightened concerns over conditions for journalists and media freedoms in Turkey

The government has branded the movement a "terror organisation" although it is not known to have been engaged in any acts of violence.

The journalists' first trial is set for March 25.

Dundar called the court's ruling for their release a historic decision for freedom of expression in Turkey. He also said his release on Friday would be "a present" on Erdogan's 62nd birthday.

Last month, US Vice President Joe Biden met with Dundar's wife during a visit to Turkey in a show of support for journalists facing prosecution.

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