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Protests in Istanbul over jailed journalists who reported on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syria

Published 27/11/2015

People shout slogans and hold placards reading
People shout slogans and hold placards reading "Free media cannot be silenced, You cannot hide reality by arresting!" in front of the Cumhuriyet Daily headquarters, on November 27, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
People gather to protest the jailing of opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul, in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. The protesters accused the government of silencing critics and attempting to cover-up a scandal after Dundar and Gul were jailed on terror and espionage charges for their reports on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syria. Dundar and Gul were sent to a prison in Istanbul late on Thursday, accused of willingly aiding a terror organization and revealing state secrets, amid deepening concerns over media freedoms in the country that aspires to join the European Union. The headline reads: " Black day of the press."(Can Erok/Cumhuriyet via AP)
People gather to protest the jailing of opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul, in Istanbul, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. The protesters accused the government of silencing critics and attempting to cover-up a scandal after Dundar and Gul were jailed on terror and espionage charges for their reports on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syria. Dundar and Gul were sent to a prison in Istanbul late on Thursday, accused of willingly aiding a terror organization and revealing state secrets, amid deepening concerns over media freedoms in the country that aspires to join the European Union. The headline reads: " Black day of the press."(Can Erok/Cumhuriyet via AP)
Police use tear-inducing agent against demonstrators during a protest against the arrest of journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul in Ankara on November 27, 2015. An Istanbul court on November 26 charged Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, with spying after they alleged Turkey's intelligence had covertly sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTANADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
A man walks past a banner that reads, "Even you arrest (journalists) or censor (media) we know that you are a war criminal Tayyip" and with a picture of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a protest over the arrest of journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul in Ankara on November 27, 2015. An Istanbul court on November 26, 2015 charged Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, with spying after they alleged Turkey's intelligence had covertly sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. AFP PHOTO/ADEM ALTANADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Police use tear-inducing agent against demonstrators during a protest against the arrest of journalists Can Dundar and Erdem Gul in Ankara on November 27, 2015. An Istanbul court on November 26 charged Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, with spying after they alleged Turkey's intelligence had covertly sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTANADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images
Riot police spray pepper gas toward journalists who were protesting against the jailing of opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara representative Erdem Gul, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Nov. 27, 2015. The journalists accused the government of silencing critics and attempting to cover-up a scandal after Dundar and Gul were jailed on terror and espionage charges for their reports on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syria. Dundar and Gul were sent to a prison in Istanbul late on Thursday, accused of willingly aiding a terror organization and revealing state secrets, amid deepening concerns over media freedoms in the country that aspires to join the European Union. (AP Photo)
People hold the Cumhuriyet Daily newspaper in front of the media headquarters, on November 27, 2015 in Istanbul, during a demonstration after the arrest of their Editor in Chief. A court in Istanbul charged two journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper with spying after they alleged Turkey's secret services had sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria, Turkish media reported. Editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, the paper's Ankara bureau chief, are accused of spying and "divulging state secrets". Both men were placed in pre-trial detention. AFP PHOTO/OZAN KOSEOZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images

Hundreds of protesters have gathered outside the office of an opposition newspaper in Istanbul after two journalists were jailed pending trial for reporting on alleged Turkish arms smuggling to Syria.

The demonstrators accuse the government of silencing critics and attempting to cover-up a scandal after Cumhuriyet's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and the paper's Ankara representative Erdem Gul were jailed over terror and espionage charges.

The pair were sent to a prison in Istanbul late on Thursday, accused of willingly aiding a terror organisation and revealing state secrets.

The incident comes amid deepening concerns over media freedoms in Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union.

In May, the paper published what it said were images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants.

The images reportedly date back to January 2014, when local authorities searched Syria-bound trucks, causing a stand-off with Turkish intelligence officials.

Cumhuriyet said the images were proof that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels in Syria.

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The government had initially denied the trucks were carrying arms, maintaining that the cargo consisted of humanitarian aid.

However, some officials later suggested that the trucks were in fact carrying arms or ammunition destined to Turkmen in Syria.

Prosecutors launched an investigation into the journalists after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan filed a criminal complaint.

Crowds filled the yard and a street outside of Cumhuriyet's headquarters, chanting: "Free press cannot be silenced."

Opposition MP Baris Yarkadas said: "The government does not want any journalist to see what kind of a calamity they have involved Turkey in."

At a separate protest in Ankara, police used tear gas to break up a gathering of journalists hoping to march to Cumhuriyet's office in the city.

The US Embassy expressed concern over Mr Dundar and Mr Erdem's arrests and at the apparent pressure being exerted on Cumhuriyet.

"We hope the Turkish courts and authorities will uphold the fundamental principle of media freedom enshrined in the Turkish Constitution," the Embassy said on Twitter.

Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders news media freedom index.

On October 17 last year 29-year-old American journalist Serena Shim reported that Isis militants and weapons were being smuggled across the Turkish border into Syria on trucks bearing the symbols of NGOs like the "World Food Organisation".

Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) accused Ms Shim of 'spying'. Ms Shim said this was "probably due to some of the stories she had covered about Turkey's stance on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant militants in Kobane."

She later reported on air that she was "a bit frightened" by what MİT "might use against me."

Two days later Ms Shim reportedly died in car accident after her car was hit by a 'heavy vehicle'. Press TV, her employer at the time, said the death was "suspicious".

London-based political analyst Shabir Hassan Ali claimed Ms Shim had been "assassinated by the government of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan." Ali said: "Serena was hounded in a fashion by Turkish intelligence."

Sanlıurfa governor İzzettin Küçük said the claims were "completely baseless". Campaigners have called for the US to launch an investigation into the death. The US government said it does not investigate the death of American citizens abroad.

Ms Shim's sister, Fatemeh, gave an interview to Afshin Rattansi last year on the show Going Underground. That interview can be viewed above.

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