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Detained Turkish journalists appeal court verdict

AFP , Monday 30 Nov 2015
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Lawyers for two journalists from an Turkish opposition newspaper on Monday appealed a court ruling to detain them on spying charges over a report suggesting Ankara had shipped arms bound for Syria, the daily said.

The lawyers for Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and its Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul wrote in the appeal that they objected to last week's court decision which they said contradicted the Turkish constitution and law.

"The rest is yours. It's your choice and responsibility," the lawyers said.

An Istanbul court on Thursday charged the two journalists with "aiding a terrorist organisation" and spying for alleging that Turkey, a fierce critic of President Bashar al-Assad, had covertly shipped arms to Syria.

Both were remanded in custody pending trial, but no date has been set and it may be months away.

If convicted, both men face up to 45 years in prison.

Cumhuriyet reported that Turkish security forces in January 2014 intercepted a convoy of trucks near the Syrian border carrying boxes of what it described as weapons and ammunition bound for Syria, ostensibly for rebels fighting the Assad regime.

The footage, which was published on the newspaper's website in May, showed police opening crates of weapons and ammunition on the back of trucks which Cumhuriyet claimed belonged to the Turkish Intelligence Organisation (MIT).

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned Dundar he would "pay a heavy price" for the story.

In comments published in the Hurriyet newspaper, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said publication of state secrets amounted to a "crime" but suggested that both men should be released pending trial.

"I am of the opinion that it would be accurate to proceed down a path of a release pending trial except for compulsory cases," he said, while warning against manipulating the judiciary.

Last week's ruling sparked new alarm over Turkey's press freedom record, with the European Union describing the news as "worrying".

In a letter to EU leaders on the eve of Sunday's meeting with Turkey, the two journalists wrote from their prison cell that "your solidarity is more vital than ever".

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said despite a deal with Turkey to contain the refugee crisis, "we have not forgotten the differences that still remain with Turkey over human rights and freedom of the press, and we will return to them".

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