Trial begins of Turkish journalists linked to armed group

Trial begins of Turkish journalists linked to armed group

Two journalists whose prosecution has become a rallying call for press freedom in Turkey went on trial Tuesday on charges related to a plot to unseat the government, dpa reported.

Nedim Shener and Ahmet Shik, who have both published books about the Ergenekon coup plot, appeared in the dock of the Istanbul criminal court along with 11 other journalists and media executives.

"If there is a free press, there will be a free society," read placards held by some of the 50 demonstrators assembled outside the court.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has repeatedly said Shener and Shik are being prosecuted for their non-journalistic activities.

Prosecutors allege that the books written by Shener and Shik actually helped Ergenekon, an armed organization whose members reportedly worked to destabilize the current government and pave the way for a military coup. The prosecutors asked the court to sentence both journalists to 15 years' imprisonment.

Many Turks regard the case as a test of media freedom in Turkey, where more than 60 journalists are currently in prison or detained.

Shener wrote for the mainstream Milliyet newspaper, while Shik had worked for the Cumhuriyet newspaper and Reuters before devoting himself to writing books.

"This indictment violates the most basic rights and freedoms," Eren Egilmez, an organizer of the campaign to free the accused, told CNN-Turk.

Among the foreign observers of the trial was Philippe Leruth, vice president of the European Federation of Journalists.

Leruth told CNN-Turk that Turkey "must really be democratic" if it hopes to become a role model for Arab countries emerging from dictatorships.

Defence lawyers asked for the trial's chief judge to be removed. The request was referred to a higher court and the trial was adjourned to December 26.

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