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First journalists go on trial over Turkey coup bid

© AFP/File | Turkey has been under a state of emergency since the failed coup in July 2016 against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

ISTANBUL (AFP) - 

Prominent journalists were among 17 people who went on trial in Istanbul on Monday on charges of links to the group allegedly behind last year's failed coup, in a case that has amplified concerns over press freedom in Turkey.

The trial is the first to include journalists arrested in connection with the July 15 coup under the state of emergency imposed shortly after. More cases are set to go to court in the next few months.

All those on trial are accused of links to the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen who Ankara says masterminded the bid to oust Erdogan. The coup left 249 dead, not including the plotters.

Ten of the 17 suspects are on the run while six remain in custody and another remains free pending trial, an AFP correspondent said.

Those accused include the veteran writer Nazli Ilicak who was one of the very first journalists arrested in July after the coup. Briefly an MP from 1999, she wrote for dailies including Hurriyet.

Also on trial is Ahmet Altan, a novelist and journalist who has also written for some of Turkey's best dailies including Hurriyet and Milliyet as well as founding the opposition daily Taraf.

Another prominent suspect is Mehmet Altan, Ahmet Altan's brother, who has written books on Turkish politics.

Both were detained in early September although Ahmet Altan was released in mid-September before rapidly being re-arrested.

Along with the arrest of a dozen staff from the opposition Cumhuriyet daily -- who are being tried in a separate case -- the charges against the brothers have focussed concern over freedom of expression in Turkey.

Turkey's bestselling and Nobel-winning author, Orhan Pamuk, lashed out at the arrest of Ahmet Altan, warning that Turkey was heading towards becoming "a regime of terror".

Amongst the other charges, the two Altan brothers and Ilicak are accused of appearing together on a TV show on a pro-Gulen channel just before the coup and issuing a message that the putsch was in the offing.

Representatives of rights and freedom of expression groups Article 19, Amnesty International, Index on Censorship, Norwegian PEN and PEN International are attending the hearing.

The jailed journalists and staff of the Cumhuriyet daily -- including the paper's current editor-in-chief Murat Sabuncu, veteran commentator Kadri Gursel and cartoonist Musa Kart -- are due to go on trial on July 24.

© 2017 AFP