Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has harshly criticized the recent Constitutional Court ruling that paved the way for the release of two journalists arrested on terror and espionage charges, saying he “does not accept or respect” the decision and vowing not to “obey” it.
“I’m not in a position to agree with this decision. I’m saying this very clearly: I don’t concur with the decision and I have no respect for it,” Erdoğan said on Feb. 28 regarding the top court’s ruling on Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül.
Dündar and Gül were released early on Feb. 26 after 92 days in jail on terrorism and espionage charges, hours after the country’s top court ruled that their pre-trial arrest violated their rights. Following the decision, the Istanbul 14th Court of Serious Crimes ordered their release but subjected them to an overseas travel ban.
“The media cannot have limitless freedom … These stories have included all kinds of attacks against this country’s president,” Erdoğan told reporters at Istanbul’s Atatürk Airport before leaving on a trip to Africa.
“I need to repeat that this case is not linked to freedom of expression whatsoever. This is an espionage case,” he added.
Dündar and Gül are accused of “espionage threatening state security” and “supporting an armed terrorist organization” over stories published in Cumhuriyet about National Intelligence Agency (MİT) trucks allegedly sending weapons to unknown groups in Syria.
The two men were arrested by an Istanbul court on Nov. 26 last year, triggering reactions from press organizations, NGOs and many Western countries.
The indictment, which was completed on Jan. 27, demands the penalty of life in prison for both Dündar and Gül.
President Erdoğan also stressed that the trial, which is scheduled to start on March 26, is not over yet.
“This is not a decision of acquittal, this is a release order,” he said.
Erdoğan filed an individual criminal complaint against Dündar and Cumhuriyet on June 2, 2015, claiming that their reports “included footage and information that is not factual.”
The plaintiff accused Dündar of “trying to manipulate justice” with fabricated material and “violating confidentiality” by publishing the story.
The legal complaint came soon after Erdoğan had said the journalists would pay a “heavy price.”
“This slander and illegitimate operation against the MİT are, in a way, an act of espionage. This newspaper [Cumhuriyet] is involved in this espionage activity too … The person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price for this,” he said during an interview with public broadcaster TRT late on May 31, 2015.