Reuters International

Can Dundar (R), editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, accompanied by his Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul arrive at the Justice Palace in Istanbul, Turkey May 6, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

(reuters_tickers)

By Ayla Jean Yackley

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A prominent Turkish newspaper editor said on Friday journalism was on trial as he gave his final defence against charges of revealing state secrets in a case that has drawn international criticism of the EU candidate's press freedom record.

A verdict was expected later in the day in the closed-door trial.

Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, and Erdem Gul, its Ankara bureau chief, could face life in jail on espionage charges and attempting to topple the government for publishing footage that purported to show Turkey's state intelligence agency ferrying weapons into Syria in 2014.

Their lawyers said the prosecutor did not seek the espionage charge in his closing statement, but nonetheless called for Dundar to be jailed for 25 years for procuring and revealing state secrets and Gul for to be jailed for 10 years for publishing them.

"We are now on trial for our story: for acquiring and publishing state secrets," Dundar told Reuters during a court recess. "This confirms journalism is on trial, making our defence easier and a conviction harder."

President Tayyip Erdogan, who joined the trial as a complainant, accused the men of undermining Turkey's international reputation and vowed Dundar would "pay a heavy price", raising opposition concerns the case was politicised.

"This case isn't based on law, it's political," said Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican People's Party. "That's evidenced by the president joining this case as a complainant ... There is an attempt to pressure the court."

Erdogan has acknowledged that the trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border in January 2014, belonged to the National Intelligence Organisation and said they were carrying aid to Turkmen battling both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State.

Gul and Dundar spent 92 days in jail, almost half of it in solitary confinement, before the constitutional court ruled in February that pre-trial detention was unfounded because the charges stemmed from their journalism.

Erdogan said he did not respect that ruling.

(Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Alison Williams)

reuters_tickers

 Reuters International