Turkey jails prominent journalists

Erdem Gul (left) and Can Dundar

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Erdem Gul (left) and Can Dundar have been sentenced to five years in prison

A Turkish court has sentenced two journalists to five years in prison on charges of revealing state secrets.

Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the former editor and Ankara bureau chief of leading opposition daily Cumhuriyet, were prosecuted over a report alleging the Turkish government had tried to ship arms to Islamists in Syria.

The prosecution has been widely criticised by international observers.

Shortly before the verdict, a gunman attempted to kill Mr Dundar.

Media captionJournalist Can Dundar’s wife Dilek and an unnamed man initially restrained the gunman

The assailant fired several shots while Mr Dundar was briefing reporters outside the courthouse. Mr Dundar escaped unharmed and the gunman was arrested. A reporter was lightly injured in the leg.

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The assailant was detained by plainclothes police officers

The two men were acquitted of more serious charge of espionage, which could have carried with it a life sentence. But their very prosecution has proved controversial, drawing sharp criticism from human rights campaigners and fellow journalists.

They are expected to appeal against the verdict.

Mr Dundar and Mr Gul were charged in November with espionage after their reporting alleged Turkey‘s intelligence services were sending weapons and ammunition to Islamist rebels fighting the Syrian regime.

Turkish security forces intercepted a convoy of lorries near the Syrian border in January 2014, and Cumhuriyet alleged these vehicles were linked to Turkey’s MIT intelligence organisation.

Alongside the newspaper report was video footage showing police discovering crates of weapons hidden beneath boxes of medicine.

The government insisted that the lorries were not carrying weapons to the Islamist rebels as alleged, but bringing aid to Syria’s Turkmen minority, a Turkic-speaking ethnic group.

Mr Dundar and Mr Gul’s reports, published in May 2015, triggered a political storm in Turkey as well as a lawsuit filed by President Erdogan.

Mr Erdogan said that the video footage was a state secret, and by publishing it Cumhuriyet daily had engaged in an act of espionage.

“Whoever wrote this story will pay a heavy price for this. I will not let him go unpunished,” he vowed live on television.

Freedom of the press in Turkey

  • Turkey ranks 149th amongst the 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2015
  • Media organisations in Turkey say that more than 30 journalists are currently behind bars
  • Most are of Kurdish origin
  • The government argues journalism in Turkey is among the most free in the world

Press freedom ‘a major concern’

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