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Turkish court begins closed espionage trial of two journalists

[JURIST] Two Turkish journalists went on trial in closed proceedings Friday on espionage charges that have garnered worldwide concerns regarding the state of free press under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's [official profile] regime. In 2014 Can Dundar and Erdem Gul initially reported [JURIST report] for the Cumhuriyet [media website, in Turkish] that the Turkish government was secretly supplying arms to Islamist groups in Syria. Erdoğan accused them of espionage and had them arrested last November, but the journalists were released from prison upon a court finding that their detention violated constitutional rights. The prosecution has asked the court [AFP report] to give the journalists life sentences and 30 additional years, and they were granted their request to hold a confidential trial for the sake of security. Despite being closed to the public, the trial drew more than 200 supporters defending press freedom. International groups such as Human Rights Watch and the EU have accused [Reuters report] the Turkish government of attempting to silence the press, and PEN International [advocacy website] launched a campaign [Guardian report] with more than 100 writers urging Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu [official profile, PDF] to release writers imprisoned for exercising freedom of speech. Dundar and Gul hope to use the trial as a platform for addressing Turkey's involvement with Syria on the record.

Turkey has been accused of violating the freedom of expression on numerous recent occasions. In December the European Court of Human Rights ruled [JURIST report] unanimously that a Turkish court order blocking access to YouTube violated Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In April a prosecutor in Turkey ordered [JURIST report] Internet providers to block social networking sites including Twitter and YouTube. In September 2014 Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party [party website] was taking steps to weaken the rule of law, control Internet and media and suppress critics and protesters. In April 2014 the Turkish government lifted a ban [JURIST report] on Twitter following a Constitutional Court ruling stating that the ban violated both individual rights as well as the freedom of expression.

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