Around 2,000 people protested on Friday over the arrest of two prominent journalists on charges of espionage and terrorist propaganda, a case that has revived long-standing criticism of Turkey’s record on press freedom under President Tayyip Erdogan.
A court on Thursday ordered the arrest of editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet newspaper Can Dundar and reporter Erdem Gul over the publication of footage purporting to show the state intelligence agency helping send weapons to Syria.
The United States said it was “very concerned” and opposition politicians fiercely criticized the move.
“Journalism is being put on trial with these arrests and the Turkish press is being intimidated,” Utku Cakirozer, a deputy from the main opposition CHP and a former chief editor of Cumhuriyet, told Reuters.
Crowds turned out in Istanbul, with some chanting “Murderer Erdogan” and accusing the ruling AK Party he founded of collaborating with Islamic State. Some demonstrators held up Friday’s edition of Cumhuriyet, which carried the headline “Black day for the press”.
“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, co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, said at the protest.
“This dark operation aimed at covering the crimes that those trucks carried and the crimes which are continuing to be committed will not be successful,” she added.
The video footage, released in May, purported to show Turkish police opening crates of weapons and ammunition bound for Syria on the back of state security agency (MIT) trucks.
Publication of the story at the time prompted President Tayyip Erdogan to vow revenge, saying those behind it would “pay a heavy price” for the story.
There was a similar protest in the capital Ankara and the U.S. Embassy also commented on the detentions.
“We are very concerned by the arrests of Can Dundar and Erdem Gul and what appears to be yet another media outlet under pressure,” the U.S. Embassy said on Twitter.
“We hope the Turkish courts and authorities will uphold the fundamental principle of media freedom enshrined in the Turkish Constitution.”
European diplomats are measured in their criticism of media freedom in Turkey and Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule, recognizing the West needs Ankara’s help on the migrant crisis and as an ally in the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State.
Europe is hoping to finalize a deal with Ankara – a NATO member and a candidate for EU membership – on the refugee crisis at a summit this weekend. Reuters