Turkey: 4 journalists released in coup plot trial

March 12, 2012 - 6:16 PM

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Four Turkish journalists were freed from jail Monday, a year after they were detained in a case that has raised fears for press freedom in the country. Two pledged to immediately tackle sensitive subjects again, including the killing of an ethnic Armenian journalist.

The four were detained along with nine other people on accusations that they had formed the media wing of an alleged secularist network that plotted to topple Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government.

A court ordered their release pending trial. It cited the time they spent in jail and noted that the charges against them might be changed.

Dozens of journalists are jailed on terrorism charges in Turkey, and Erdogan's government faces growing international criticism that it is trying to silence its challengers. The government rejects the accusation, citing its record of instituting Western-backed reforms. It says it must prosecute an alleged network of hardline secularists accused of plotting a coup.

Six of the defendants in the case remain in jail, including writer and government critic Yalcin Kucuk and Soner Yalcin, the owner of Oda TV. The suspects deny the charges. Three others had already been freed pending trial.

Some 400 other people also are on trial for being part of the alleged network, which prosecutors say plotted in 2003 to create chaos and spark a military coup. Critics say the trial is based on flimsy or fabricated evidence and aims to intimidate and muzzle government opponents.

"Free press can't be silenced," shouted dozens of journalists as they celebrated the release of their colleagues.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc expressed satisfaction at the court ruling. "It is pleasing," Arinc said. "It was sad to see them jailed."

Nedim Sener, an award-winning reporter for Milliyet newspaper, promised to keep investigating the 2007 assassination of an ethnic Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink.

Sener had already faced an earlier prosecution for a book about the assassination, in which he had alleged official negligence and argued that an alleged coup plot gang was behind the murder. He did not serve time in jail for that prosecution.

After his release Monday, Sener said he will work to "have the murderers of Dink imprisoned."

"They first tried me, then put me in jail, but the truth cannot be imprisoned," Sener said.

A recent trial failed to shed light on alleged official negligence or even collusion in Dink's killing. A presidential investigation last month concluded that officials had neglected to protect Dink despite signs that he would be targeted.

Ahmet Sik, another investigative journalist, who was among the four released, had been preparing a book about the alleged infiltration of Islamists into the Turkish police when he was charged and jailed.

"Justice will prevail when perpetrators of this case against us are imprisoned," Sik said. He added that the entire press was under intense pressure from the government and that he would continue to work as an "independent."