ISTANBUL (Reuters) - The release of two prominent Turkish journalists following a ruling by Turkey’s top court that their rights had been violated is a “clear defeat” for President Tayyip Erdogan, one of them said on Wednesday.
Can Dundar, the editor-in-chief of opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, and his colleague Erdem Gul were freed last Friday after the constitutional court ruled their detention was “unlawful” and violated their individual freedom and safety.
The two journalists, who still face trial and potential life sentences, were arrested in November and charged with intentionally aiding an armed terrorist organization and publishing material in violation of state security.
Their detention has deepened concerns about media freedom in Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union. Erdogan says the case is not about press freedom but about espionage and says he does not respect the court ruling.
Cumhuriyet published photos, videos and a report last year that it said showed intelligence officials trucking arms to Syria in 2014.
“Erdogan is having trouble accepting the ruling because this was a clear defeat for him. We have a president who is not accustomed to defeat,” Dundar said at a news conference.
Dundar also said he would defy an order to surrender his passport and would attempt to travel overseas.
The court’s decision, which affirmed Dundar and Gul were acting as journalists, should pave the way for an acquittal at a first hearing on March 25, Dundar said, but added it was unclear how the judiciary would now act after Erdogan’s intervention.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a close ally of Erdogan, echoed the president’s remarks on the case on Wednesday, saying the court ruling should not affect the journalists’ trial.
“It is wrong for the constitutional court to see itself as the primary court and intervene in the whole judicial process,” Davutoglu told a news conference, adding that the case was about revealing state secrets and espionage.
Advocates of free speech criticized the government’s stance.
“The words Mr Erdogan used ... is setting up a climate of intimidation and even threats against journalists. What he does is really dangerous,” said Christophe Deloire, secretary general of Reporters Without Borders..
Dundar chided the EU for failing to press Turkey over basic rights, saying Brussels was too focused on securing Ankara’s cooperation in stemming the flow of migrants from the Middle East to Europe.
“While we were in prison, there was bargaining going on over money for refugees. We see this as dirty bargaining to keep refugees off European territory,” he said.
“It appears Europe is willing to concede its long-term principles for short-term gains.”
Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Gareth Jones