Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday chastised foreign diplomats for attending a trial in Istanbul of two journalists facing possible life terms on controversial espionage charges.
“Who are you? What are you doing there?” Erdogan said in a televised speech in Istanbul, accusing foreign envoys of making a “show of strength.”
Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of leading opposition daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, his Ankara bureau chief, went on trial on Friday on charges of espionage and revealing state secrets over a story accusing Erdogan’s government of seeking to illicitly deliver arms bound for Syria.
The case stoked concerns over the state of free press in European Union aspirant and several EU diplomats including the German ambassador attended the start of the trial.
“This is not your country, this is Turkey,” Erdogan said, adding that diplomats can operate within the boundaries of missions and adding: “Elsewhere is subject to permission.”
Cumhuriyet’s report on a shipment of arms being intercepted at the Syrian border in January 2014 sparked outrage when it was published in May, fuelling speculation about Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict.
Erdogan himself reacted furiously to the allegations, personally warning Dundar he would “pay a heavy price”.
The court on Friday accepted the president and Turkey’s intelligence agency as civil plaintiffs in the case.
Within two hours of the start of the proceedings the judge ordered the trial to be held behind closed doors, granting a request by the prosecution which cited “national security” concerns.
The decision was met with cries of dismay inside the court. Several opposition politicians refused to leave, prompting the judge to adjourn the trial until April 1.