ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court freed on bail an opposition journalist facing charges of aiding a terrorist organisation after he identified the hotel where President Tayyip Erdogan was staying hours before last year’s failed military coup.
Gokmen Ulu, one of four staff of the opposition newspaper Sozcu whose trial began on Tuesday, told the court he was accused of a “made-up” crime and prosecutors had no evidence against him. He had been in detention for more than five months.
“The court has decided to release on bail our friend Gokmen Ulu,” the Sozcu newspaper said on its website, saying he was expected to be freed from Silivri Prison, west of Istanbul, later on Wednesday.
Ulu was charged along with video journalist Mediha Olgun, who was held for several months before her release on bail in September, and accountant Yonca Yucekaleli, both of whom deny the accusations against them.
Sozcu founder Burak Akbay, who has left the country and is being tried in absentia, is accused of being a leader of a terrorist organisation.
On the night of the July 15, 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan narrowly escaped a team of rogue soldiers who stormed his hotel in a luxury resort in the southwestern Turkish province of Mugla. Forty-two soldiers were found guilty last month of trying to kill him and given life sentences.
Prosecutors say Ulu’s newspaper article made Erdogan a target for the coup plotters by revealing his location.
“The allegations are against conscience and thought. They are unjust. The crime is made up,” Ulu told the court, according to a transcript published by his newspaper. “There is no evidence against me.”
Akbay, in a statement read to the court, denied he was a supporter of U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who is accused by Turkish authorities of orchestrating the abortive coup. Gulen has said he was not involved and has condemned the putsch.
More than 50,000 people, including soldiers, teachers and journalists, have been jailed pending trial in a sweeping crackdown following the coup attempt.
European allies fear Erdogan is using the investigations to stifle opposition and undermine the judiciary. He has responded by saying that the purges are necessary to maintain stability in a pivotal NATO country bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich