Turkey court releases opposition journalist ahead of trial

Critics say Turkish government crackdown goes well beyond coup plotters, targeting journalists and opposition politicians.

ISTANBUL - A Turkish court on Wednesday ordered the release of an opposition newspaper journalist accused of links to the group blamed by the government for last year's failed coup.
Izmir-based journalist Bekir Gokmen Ulu from the Sozcu daily was ordered to be released by Istanbul's main court, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.
He is one of four staff members from the newspaper who went on trial on Tuesday, in the latest case of journalists facing charges under state of emergency laws imposed after the failed putsch to oust President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Two of the other defendants in the case, news editors Mediha Olgun and Yonca Kaleli, had already been allowed to go free while the case was heard. All three remain on trial on charges of "intentionally aiding a terror group" and face up to 15 years each in prison if convicted.
The fourth suspect, the newspaper's owner Burak Akbay, is accused of the more serious charges of "running an armed terror group" and "spreading terror propaganda" and could be imprisoned for up to 30 years.
An Istanbul prosecutor's office in May issued an arrest warrant for Akbay, who is believed to be abroad.
Witnesses in the hearing, some with close links to the government, dismissed the idea Sozcu had any links to the failed coup, raising questions about the viability of the case.
Journalist Fuat Ugur, of pro-government ATV Europe television, told the court he did not think that "Sozcu newspaper is being published by the Fethullah Terror Organisation".
The government blames the movement of US-based Muslim preacher Fethullah Gulen for the July 15, 2016 failed coup but Gulen strongly denies the charges.
Ugur's comments were backed by the staunchly pro-Erdogan columnist of the Star newspaper Cem Kucuk, causing surprise on social media.
Over 50,000 people have been arrested since the failed coup, while more than 140,000 people including public sector employees have been sacked or suspended over alleged links to Gulen and his movement.
Critics say the vast crackdown goes well beyond alleged coup plotters and opposition politicians and dozens of journalists have been caught up in the crackdown.
The nationalist Sozcu is on occasion vehemently anti-Erdogan and its angry front pages are regarded with suspicion even by some liberal Turks critical of the president.
It is the second opposition daily to be targeted after Cumhuriyet newspaper.
Four of its staffers remain in jail in a separate ongoing trial.