Local reports indicated that the decision would now be forwarded to the Istanbul 14th Heavy Penalty Court, where the pair face trial over reports claiming that Turkey’s intelligence agency secretly armed Islamist rebel groups in Syria, and that they were expected to be released tonight or tomorrow.
“We are extremely pleased that the justices of the Constitutional Court stood up today and demonstrated that democracy and respect for human rights are still fundamental values in Turkey,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “IPI and its members across the globe look forward to Mr. Dündar and Mr. Gül’s swift release, and we will continue to advocate on their behalf until this baseless case against them has been dismissed.”
Dündar, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, and Gül, its Ankara bureau chief, are accused of “gathering secret state documents for the purposes of political and military espionage”, “attempting to topple the government of the Republic of Turkey or attempting to stop either partially or totally the government from fulfilling its duties” and “deliberate support for a terrorist organization without being a member”.
Dündar and Gül were taken into custody in November 2015 and have spent 92 days in pre-trial detention at Turkey’s Silivri Prison. The trial against them is currently scheduled to begin on March 25. If convicted, they each face an aggravated life term in prison, a second life term and an additional 30 years behind bars.
The charges against them stem from a May 29, 2015 report published in Cumhuriyet that included a video purportedly showing Turkish security forces searching Turkish intelligence agency trucks en route to Syria containing crates of ammunition and weapons. That video appeared to confirm previous reports claiming Turkey’s intelligence agency, the MİT, arming Islamist rebels in Syria despite Turkish government denials.
Turkish officials claim the weapons were planted by adherents of a movement led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally-turned-nemesis of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Officials have labelled the movement a “terrorist organisation”, claiming it sought to develop a “parallel state” in order to force the AKP government and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan from power. Dündar and Gül are accused of supporting the movement with their reporting.
International observers have widely derided the case and IPI representatives in January led a delegation of international groups in protest outside the Silivri Prison’s gates after Turkey’s Justice Ministry refused to allow them – or any supporters of the journalists, other than close family, attorneys and MPs – to visit the pair.
The delegates represented members of a broad coalition of leading press freedom and free expression groups that have sharply criticised the case against Dündar and Gül. In addition to IPI, the coalition includes the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), ARTICLE 19, Index on Censorship, the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), PEN International, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO).