A demonstration on November 29, 2015 in Istanbul followed the arrest of Cumhuriyet editor Can Dundar
Istanbul (AFP) - Imprisoned a month ago on charges of spying and revealing state secrets, the editor of Turkey's leading opposition daily remains defiant in a case that raised new concerns about press freedom under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Since Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) swept back to power in a November election, the police have already launched crackdowns on the president's rivals and opposition media, raising fears about the government's commitment to democracy.
Cumhuriyet editor Can Dundar was placed under arrest and charged on November 26 along with the paper's Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul.
The pair have been incarcerated in the Silivri prison outside Istanbul pending trial at an undetermined date, receiving a steady stream of supporters who say they have been jailed simply for speaking the truth.
The charges relate to articles and videos published by Cumhuriyet claiming to show the Turkish secret services making an illicit arms delivery to Islamists in Syria in January 2014.
Imprisonment has also not stopped Dundar -- a hugely prominent figure in Turkey and the author of several books -- from writing his regular columns in the newspaper where he has detailed prison life and expressed no regret.
In his first column after he was jailed, titled "A novice in the espionage world," Dundar described his arrival in prison as something out of a John Le Carre spy novel.
"The first night I was brought to Silivri together with my colleague Erdem Gul, they asked us what charges we were in on at the first registration desk: "Terror or ordinary?"
"'I am a spy', I said, in a serious manner."
"But if they had asked me which country I was spying for, I wouldn't have known.
"If I knew, I would have asked to be swapped with a spy of whatever country on a bridge, but they did not tell me this," he said, in reference to the the spy exchanges of the Cold War.
- 'Struggle to tell the truth' -
Despite the absence of its editor, Cumhuriyet remains defiant and has published new anti-government allegations despite facing increasing pressure, like a new tax inspection.
"Dirty relations with IS on the border," Cumhuriyet headlined on Monday, publishing phone conversations allegedly showing Turkish military officials and jihadists coordinating their passage into Syria.
"We are only doing our job, which is to inform the public of what is going on in our country," Tahir Ozyurtseven deputy editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet told AFP.
Ozyurtseven visits Dundar every Tuesday, allowing the journalist to still have a say on coverage. Cumhuriyet recently held an editorial meeting outside Silivri prison.
"It's a daily struggle for all of us to try to keep telling the truth," he said.
Dundar, in a cell on his own, compared his and Gul's conditions to Guantanamo Bay, a US military prison set up to hold terror suspects after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
"We are alone in our prison cells around the clock."
Dundar also faces multiple years in prison for allegedly defaming the president because he interviewed one of the prosecutors who led a 2013 corruption investigation implicating Erdogan and his inner circle.
He has only stepped out of Silivri on December 17 -- the two-year anniversary of the corruption probe -- to appear before court.
"I was dreaming of feeling the sun on my skin as I stepped out of Silivri after 22 days... but there's a dirty winter rain falling like the tears of shame: It's December 17," he said.
"But I'm determined: I won't be brought to account. I will instead ask for an account from the guilty," he wrote.
- 'Shame for Turkey' -
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told foreign journalists in a rare meeting earlier this month that he did not want Gul and Dundar under arrest ahead of trial, while emphasising it was up to the judiciary to decide.
But he described the 2014 delivery as a "typical confidential case for the state" and said journalists have to observe the rules "like any other citizens."
Supporters, including journalists, lawmakers and artists, have been taking turns to maintain a vigil called "Wait for Hope" outside Silivri prison.
According to main opposition Republican Peoples' Party (CHP) there are 32 journalists currently behind bars in Turkey, with a number of them being held in Silivri.
World-renowned pianist and composer Fazil Say, a fierce critic of the Islamic-rooted government, said their arrest was "a source of shame for Turkey" as he took over the vigil last week.
"Can Dundar is a real intellectual, a respected journalists, and a real humanist. But unfortunately, these qualities are never appreciated in my country," he said.
A prominent voice in the country in a career spanning more than 30 years, Dundar has been a thorn in Erdogan's side since taking over as Cumhuriyet editor in February.
Erdogan said the reports on the alleged arms delivery to Syria were an act of "betrayal," vowing Dundar would pay a "heavy price".