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Turkish court releases four journalists accused in coup plot

An Istanbul court on Monday ordered four Turkish journalists to be released from prison while they wait for their trial to resume. Journalists Ahmet Sik, Nedim Sener, Coskun Musluk and Sait Cakir were released [Hurriyet Daily News report], although nine other journalists remain in prison. The journalists were arrested in March 2011 and are accused of being part of Ergenekon [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], a secular group suspected of planning to overthrow [JURIST report] the ruling Justice Development Party (AKP) [party website, in Turkish]. Prior to their release, the men testified at a hearing and asserted their innocence. The 13 journalists in the so-called OdaTV case claim that the charges are an attempt to silence opposition based on allegedly fabricated evidence. However, the government maintains that the charges are based solely on the defendants' criminal activities and not their writings as journalists. Their trial started in November [JURIST report] but was adjourned after only four hours to await a decision from Turkey's high court on whether the presiding judge could continue to hear the case after the defense counsel accused the judge of showing bias. The case has sparked international concern over media rights in Turkey. On Tuesday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) [official website] Representative on Freedom of the Media, Dunja Mijatovic, praised the Turkish court [OSCE press release] for agreeing to release the journalists and emphasized the importance of freedom of the press for democracy. The next hearing date in the case is June 18.

Approximately 400 individuals are currently on trial in connection with the alleged 2009 Ergenekon plot to assassinate prominent members of Turkey's Christian and Jewish minority groups, blame Islamic terrorists for the deaths and delegitimize the ruling AKP government. Last month, an Istanbul criminal court accepted an indictment [JURIST report] against retired General Ilker Basbug [official website, in Turkish], the highest ranking military officer to be indicted in connection with Ergenekon, after Basbug's request to have his case heard by the Supreme State Council, a faction of Turkey's Constitutional Court [official website, in Turkish], was denied. Basbug, who was arrested in January [JURIST report], claims that he is innocent and lower-ranking military officials who have been indicted state that they were just acting within the chain of command. Critics of the Islam-rooted AKP ruling party contend that the Ergenekon investigation is intended to silence the party's opponents and impose Islamic principles [JURIST report], but the government denies any such charges.

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