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Turkey: Courts refuse to back down; journalists to remain in prison pending trial over Ergenekon

Hundreds of Turkish journalists march to protest against the government and the arrests of seven journalist last week, in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, March 13, 2011.

A court in Turkey on Thursday rejected a request for the provisional release of investigative journalists Ahmet Sik and Nedim Sener, who were arrested on March 3. They will now have to spend months in prison pending trial on a charge of belonging to an alleged conspiracy called Ergenekon, which the authorities regard as “terrorist organisation.”

The court ordered their continued detention under article 100-3 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CMK), applicable when there is a risk that “the accused could flee (...) conceal or damage evidence (...) or apply pressure to witnesses.”

The ruling comes amid a continuing campaign in Turkey and abroad for their release. In an unprecedented development in Turkey, more than 5,000 demonstrated in Istanbul on Sunday (13 March) for the second week running in response to a call from the Freedom for Journalists Platform (GÖP). The many searches and arrests carried out by the police on March 3 have been widely condemned internationally as serious press freedom violations.

Paris-based press freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) described these grounds as totally absurd and urges prosecutors to produce the evidence they claim to have against the two journalists.

In a letter to the web portal Bianet Wednesday, Sik said he did not know why he was in prison but was aware that his arrest was “eminently political.” Sik had just finished writing a book about the influence of a Muslim group, Fetullah Gülen, within the Turkish state and the national police. Many commentators have said its claims would have been embarrassing for the government ahead of the parliamentary elections in June.

Dozens of people have been arrested in the course of the Ergenekon investigation that began in June 2007. Initially hailed as a sign of progress for Turkish democracy, as senior military officers were among those detained, the investigation has acquired an increasingly repressive character, as evidenced by the detention of Sik and Sener.

Any journalist who tries to cover stories related to the security apparatus or Turkey’s ethnic minorities is liable to be prosecuted. Ertugrul Mavioglu is due to be tried in the next few days for interviewing a leader of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in northern Iraq. RSF plans to follow the trial closely. He has already been prosecuted with Sik in connection with the two-volume book on the Ergenekon case they wrote together.

Date posted: March 18, 2011 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 134