Two Turkish journalists, Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, with the newspaper Cumhuriyet, have been jailed on espionage and terror charges in relation to articles they wrote concerning Turkish government shipments of arms to Syrian militants, reports the Globe and Mail.
Thousands were reported to gather in at least two separate protests in Istanbul and Ankara, where tear gas and pepper spray were used to disperse those gathered, according to RT.
Can Dundar was the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet and Erdem Gul was the Ankara representative. The arrests of the Turkish journalists is described as occurring amid “deepening concerns over media freedoms in Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union.”
Cumhuriyet reportedly published January 2014 photos purporting to depict trucks from Turkey delivering ammunition to militants in Syria, in May of 2015. Articles accompanying the photos were said to claim them as proof that the Turkish government had ties with radical groups in Syria.
The story given by the Turkish government apparently changed. First they denied that the trucks were carrying ammunition at all. Then they stated that the trucks were in fact carrying ammunition, but that it was destined for Turkish soldiers fighting in Syria.
According to Cumhuriyet, the trucks were carrying six containers filled with 80,000 round for machine gun, 1,000 mortar shells, and 1,000 artillery shells destined for militants in Syria.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reported to have personally made a complaint about the journalists, prompting prosecutors to lay spying and terror charges and hold the journos in jail.
“Free press cannot be silenced,” protesters gathered outside Cumhuriyet offices reportedly chanted.
“All opposition press organizations that are abiding by the ethics of journalism and trying to do their journalism are under threat and under attack,” Figen Yuksekdag with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party was quoted.
Utku Cakirozer, a member of the Turkish opposition, described the arrests as intimidating “free speech” and putting it “on trial.”
“The government does not want any journalist to see what kind of a calamity they have involved Turkey in,” Turkish opposition member Baris Yarkadas was quoted.
The U.S State Department stated that officials are “troubled” by the arrest and jailing of Can Dundar and Erdem Gul.
“We call on Turkish authorities to ensure that all individuals and organizations – including but not limited to the media – are free to voice a full range of opinions and criticism, in accordance with Turkey’s constitutional guarantees of media freedom and freedom of expression. This will ultimately strengthen Turkey’s democracy,” Mark Toner, deputy department spokesperson, said in a statement.
“Of course, journalists are not untouchable, but journalism is not a crime,” a translation of a Cuneyt Ozdemir article with Cumhuriyet reads.
A protester in Ankara described tension mounting in Turkish society, noting that the arrests were like a “bomb” being detonated. They stated a belief that “society” was getting ready to “explode” at any moment.
Can Dundar and Erdem Gul are reportedly facing life in prison for the allegations. Dundar was quoted at a court appearance stating that he and Gul are neither spies, nor terrorists, nor traitors. He also stated that they are not “heroes,” and that they are only “journalists.” Dundar and Gul are being held at a prison in Istanbul.
Human Rights Watch has described a “media crackdown” by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as a reaction to increasing violence in the country. In August, three foreign journalists were arrested, and journalists with Milliyet perceived as being critical of the Turkish president and his government were fired.
Human Rights Commissioner with the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks stated that the arrests were “another blow to media freedom in Turkey.”
[Feature Photo by Can Erok/Cumhuriyet via AP]