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Journalists on trial for reporting on politicians' secret conversations

(BIANET/IFEX) - 1 July 2010 - On 28 June, the Istanbul 13th High Criminal Court began hearing a case against Deniz Yildirim, editor-in-chief of the weekly "Aydınlık" magazine, and Ufuk Akkaya from the National Channel. The journalists appeared before the court for the first time after spending eight months in detention.

Yildirim and Akkaya were detained on 9 November 2009 after they reported on illegally recorded telephone conversations that took place between Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the former president of Northern Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat, in 2004.

The homes and offices of both defendants were searched on 19 October 2009. Twenty days later, they were detained and accused of "membership in the Ergenekon terror organization and engaging in activities on behalf of the organization".

The Ergenekon organisation is said to have planned to overthrow the government by creating chaos in the country via murders and attacks.

Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz had called for the detention of both journalists under charges of "disclosing pictures and audio material of a private nature", recording non-public conversations" and "illegally obtaining or publishing personal data".

Yildirim and Akkaya stated in the hearing that they reported on the conversations because it was a matter of public interest. They suggested that they had been detained on the Prime Minister's orders.

"We followed the daily coverage of the wiretapping of members of the Supreme Court and generals which was published in the newspapers, and in supportive newspapers and TV channels in particular. Has any investigation been launched into those cases?" the defendants argued.

In a conversation with journalist Nail Gureli, the general publications director for the National Channel, Turhan Özlü, said, "taped voice recordings by the General Chief of Staff, Gen. İlker Başbuğ, and manipulated documents about state secrets were delivered by people in their capacity as journalists. But these two journalists published telephone conversations that Erdoğan denies ever existed and they are charged with 'membership in a terrorist organization'. Publishing the news made them guilty."

In the same article, Gureli recalled that Mustafa Balbay, the Ankara correspondent for "Cumhuriyet" newspaper, has been in detention for 482 days. He demanded the release of many journalists being detained for reporting on Ergenekon, such as Tuncay Ozkan and Dogu Perincek.

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