ISTANBUL: 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 on Friday after a ruling from the constitutional court. Erdogan has said he does not respect the court’s decision.
The two journalists, who still face trial and potential life sentences, were arrested in November and charged with intentionally aiding an armed terrorist organisation and publishing material in violation of state security.
Their detention drew international condemnation and raised concerns about media freedom in Turkey, which aspires to join the European Union.
Cumhuriyet infuriated Erdogan last year after it published photos, videos and a report it said showed intelligence officials trucking arms to Syria in 2014.
Erdogan cast the newspaper’s coverage as part of an attempt to undermine Turkey’s global standing and has said the case is not about press freedom but about espionage.
“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.
In its ruling, the constitutional court said the detention of the two was “not lawful” and violated their individual freedom and safety. Their trial is due to start on March 25.
The court’s decision, which affirmed Dundar and Gul were acting as journalists, should pave the way for an acquittal at the first hearing on March 25, but Dundar said 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 it could not be viewed as a free speech matter and that it would be wrong to let the court ruling affect the journalists’ trial.
Advocates of free speech have criticised Erdogan’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 advocacy group Reporters Without Borders..
Deloire urged the court to dismiss the “absurd charges” against Dundar and Gul and to stop other “illegitimate procedures against journalists”.
Dundar chided the EU for failing to press Turkey over basic rights such as free speech, 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 a 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.”
Dundar said his newspaper would continue to pursue the story that had landed him in trouble.