By Oya Armutçu, Hurriyet Daily News, Feb 25, 2016
ANKARA – In a decision that paves the way for the release of two journalists imprisoned for 92 days, Turkey’s top court ruled on Feb. 25 that the rights of daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül have been violated.
Dündar and Gül’s application to the court on Feb. 17 had argued that their rights were violated and the earlier ruling on their arrest lacked sufficient justification. Reviewing the appeals, which asked for the two men to be tried without arrest, the top court referred them to the 17-seated Plenary of the Constitutional Court, which issued its decision on Feb. 25.
The Istanbul 14th Heavy Penalty Court was expected to later rule for the release of Dündar and Gül from Istanbul’s Silivri Prison.
The two journalists’ lawyers argued their clients “freedom of expression, freedom of the press and personal liberty security and freedom” had been violated. Dündar and Gül are accused of espionage, threatening state security, and supporting an armed terrorist organization over two stories published in Cumhuriyet about National Intelligence Agency (MİT) trucks allegedly filled with weapons and bound for Syria. The two were arrested by an Istanbul court on Nov. 26 last year, triggering reactions from press organizations, NGOs, and many Western states.
The decision by the Constitutional Court was reached by a majority of votes from 15 members of the Plenary who were present. Three members voted to refuse the applications, while 12 members voted in favor of the applications.
The Plenary ruled that Dündar’s and Gül’s constitutional rights have been violated and sent the case back to the local court in order to eliminate the violations.
According to the ruling, Article 19 of the constitution, which states that “Everyone has the right to personal liberty and security,” was violated. The ruling also cited the violation of Article 26, which states that “Everyone has the right to express and disseminate his/her thoughts and opinions by speech, in writing, in pictures, or through other media, individually or collectively. This freedom includes the liberty of receiving or imparting information or ideas without interference by official authorities. This provision shall not preclude subjecting transmission by radio, television, cinema, or similar means to a system of licensing.”
It also cited that Article 28, which states “The press is free and shall not be censored. The establishment of a printing house shall not be subject to prior permission or the deposit of a financial guarantee,” was violated.
Meanwhile, the International Press Institute (IPI) welcomed the court ruling in a statement, praising it as confirmation that democracy and human rights are still “fundamental values” in the country. “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,” International Press Institute (IPI) Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said.
“IPI and its members across the globe look forward to Mr. Dundar and Mr. Gul’s swift release, and we will continue to advocate on their behalf until this baseless case against them has been dismissed.”
The ruling by the Constitutional Court came after an individual appeal from Dündar and Gül, using a reform passed by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) that went into effect in September 2012.
Previous appeals for the release of Dündar and Gül, who are jailed on charges of “aiding terrorist organizations,” had been refused, while opposition parties urged that they should not be held in pre-trial detention.
The governing AKP party has long insisted that no journalists currently jailed in Turkey are being prosecuted due to charges related to their profession.
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