ANKARA, Turkey – A Turkish court on Friday jailed three journalists on charges of links to what the Islamic-rooted government calls a network plotting its overthrow, in a case that critics say is part of an assault on press freedom in the country.
The homes of Soner Yalcin, the owner of dissident website Oda TV, and two colleagues were raided by police earlier this week after posting a video criticizing a police investigation into the alleged coup plot. That prompted U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone to express concern about media freedom.
The EU and the Committee of Protect Journalists have accused Turkey of suppressing critical news and commentary on the alleged anti-government conspiracy. About 400 people, including journalists, politicians, academics and retired military officers are on trial accused of being part of the so-called Ergenekon network in a conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.
Erdogan on Friday denied any government attempt to silence journalists and defended the raid, saying "today the media is continuing its broadcasts."
"Who says media members have legal immunity? Can't they be prosecuted? Are they exempt from laws, taxes?," he said.
The government has criticized Ricciardone, arguing Turkey has more press freedoms than the U.S. and other countries — a claim the main opposition Republican People's Party ridiculed.
The Oda TV journalists will remain in jail pending trial. It was not immediately clear whether the three journalists will appear in court along with other defendants who are already on trial.
The Istanbul-based Turkish Journalists' Association has said the raid on Oda TV was the latest example of "intolerance" toward journalists. Thousands of journalists face prosecution, and about 60 are currently imprisoned for their writings or opinions, it said.
The government insists the Ergenekon trials are a step toward democratic reform. Opponents counter that many of the accused are innocent and have been targeted as part of a broader plan to muzzle dissent and undermine Turkey's secular legacy.
One of the most prominent defendants is Mustafa Balbay, a columnist for pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper and a fierce government critic, who has been in jail for more than two years.
Balbay has suggested authorities tampered with his computer files to bolster an indictment charging him with membership in an "armed terror organization" and attempting to overthrow the government.