Two renowned journalists in Turkey have been arrested on charges of espionage for their reports accusing the state intelligence agency of smuggling weapons to rebels in Syria. The journalists were also charged with helping a moderate Islamic movement, which is considered an armed terrorist organization by Turkey.
Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily, and Erdem Gül, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, who have denied the allegations could be sentenced to life in prison if found guilty. In May, the newspaper published alleged photos of Turkish intelligence trucks supplying arms to Syrian rebels, the Associated Press reported. The newspaper said the photos were from January 2014 and were proof that Turkey was smuggling weapons to Syria, according to AP.
"They ask us why we published that story," Dundar said, according to BBC. "The history of journalism is full of such examples as Watergate or Wikileaks that show states would like to keep some facts secret. But it's for common good to bring them to light."
Following the newspaper’s report, the Turkish government claimed that the intelligence trucks were only supplying humanitarian aid to the Turkmen minority in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan sued Dundar in June. Dundar and Gul were also charged with assisting the Fethullah Gülen movement, a former close ally of Erdoğan.
The charges against the two journalists have been met with severe criticism from press freedom groups.
"This case will seriously damage Turkey's pledge to carry out EU reforms and the promised standards of fundamental rights and freedoms," Erol Önderoğlu, a press freedom activist with Reporters Without Borders, said, according to BBC.
Erdogan's regime has been criticized by rights organizations for what they say are increased restrictions and pressures on the country's media. Earlier this month, 58 journalists representing several news outlets that were recently placed under new management by a court order had their job contracts terminated. In August, 18 journalists, including Dundar, were charged with publishing a photo of an Istanbul prosecutor being held at gunpoint in March 2014.