Two journalists arrested in press crackdown freed. By Steve Sweeney in Mersin, Turkey
THE sensational release of two journalists who faced lengthy jail terms in Turkey marks an “important victory for freedom of speech,” a delegation of supporters from Britain said yesterday.
Cemil Ugur and Halil Ibrahim Polat were charged with “membership of an armed terrorist organisation” and “making terrorist propaganda” after their arrest on August 26.
The men were reporting for left-wing daily newspaper Evrensel at a demonstration in Mersin when the gathering was attacked by police using water cannons and tear gas.
They were arrested in a side street while fleeing the gas.
Defence lawyer Tugay Bek was detained the day before the journalists’ trial, so a new legal team had to be found at short notice.
The proceedings were observed by national and international supporters, including PEN International, the Morning Star and the International Federation of Journalists.
The men were cleared of all charges after the prosecution failed to provide evidence that they were members of a terrorist organisation.
Following the trial, Mr Polat told the Star: “We were there doing our jobs as journalists.
“We went to report on a press conference. However, the police broke it up and fired tear gas and water cannon.
“There were about 30 people there and we ran to protect ourselves from the gas when the police caught us.
“But we are journalists and they said that, because we reported on a demonstration, we are members of a terrorist organisation.
“But if we reported on a burglary, are we burglars? If we reported on a murder, are we murderers?
“The only weapons we had were a pen and a camera.”
Mr Polat expressed his gratitude to those who had campaigned for him and Mr Ugur and for the “international solidarity” that played a key role in securing their release on Tuesday.
PEN International spokeswoman Caroline Stockford said: “The positive outcome today shows that observing trials plays an important role.
“It was stressed to us the importance of being at cases outside Istanbul.
“This is a good result for press freedom in Turkey, but it’s only the beginning.”
Reacting to the journalists’ release, Evrensel editor-in-chief Iskander Bayhan said: “The decision makes us happy. It is very important because there are so many journalists in Turkish jails and this gives them hope.
“This is an example for the rest of the EU and human rights organisations that it can be done,” he told the Star.