Two journalists from an opposition Turkish newspaper have been arrested, accused of spying by an Istanbul court following reports that Turkey’s intelligence agency sent weapons to Islamist rebel groups in Syria.
In another case of journalists facing criminal charges and censorship, editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, were taken into custody on Thursday night, Turkish media reported.
The two men are accused of spying and “divulging state secrets”, according to reports, as well as being members of a terror organisation. Another charge included the violation of state security after the release of the footage
Such charges could see the men face life imprisonment.
In January 2014, Turkish security forces intercepted the trucks sent by National Intelligence Agency (MIT) twice following tip-offs to prosecutors that they were illegally taking arms to Syria . The stories made the front page and since then, Turkey has often been accused of supporting Islamist Syrian rebels fighting against Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president.
Turkey disputes the front-page allegations, claiming the arms were aid for Syrian Turkmen, a Turkic minority in the country’s northern areas, and described the actions of the security forces as “treason” and “espionage”, English-language Turkish newspaper, Today’s Zaman reported.
In the video released in May, gendarmerie and police officers can apparently be seen opening crates in the trucks and finding what Cumhuriyet described as weapons and ammunition, it was reported.
When the two men were arrested on Thursday night, Dundar tweeted: “We have been arrested” in Turkish.
The two men appeared in court on Thursday and before their appearance, defended their actions as “journalistic activity”, adding they were not spies.
“We are accused of ‘spying’. The president said [our action is] ‘treason’. We are not traitors, spy, or heroes; we are journalists. What we have done here was a journalistic activity,” Dundar said before appearing in court to testify on Thursday, in comments carried by Hurriyet Daily News.
“We came here to defend journalism. We came here to defend the right of the public to obtain the news and their right to know if their government is feeding them lies. We came here to show and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activity and defend this,” Dundar added.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish president, said the reports by the newspaper were an act of “betrayal”, adding that whether they had weapons or not was irrelevant.
He has repeated the claims by authorities that Bayırbucak Turkmens were the intended recipients of aid from the truck.