Turkish opposition journalists set for March trial

Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dundar poses outside the newspaper headquarters in Istanbul on June 3, 2015 (AFP Photo/Vedat Arik)

Istanbul (AFP) - Two Turkish opposition journalists accused of espionage and trying to overthrow the government in a case that has caused global concern are due to go on trial next month.

Cumhuriyet newspaper's editor-in-chief Can Dundar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gul have been detained for more than two months over an article that alleged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government tried to send arms into Syria.

An Istanbul court will begin hearing the case on March 25, media reports said Friday, adding that it had ruled out releasing the pair pending the trial.

Turkish prosecutors last week demanded life terms for the two, as well as aggravated life sentences, which impose tougher conditions.

Dundar and Gul were placed under arrest in late November over the May report that claimed to show proof that a consignment of weapons seized at the border in January 2014 was bound for Islamist rebels in Syria.

They have been formally charged with obtaining and revealing state secrets "for espionage purposes" and seeking to "violently" overthrow the Turkish government as well as aiding an "armed terrorist organisation", it said.

The report sparked a furore in Turkey, fuelling speculation about the government's role in the Syrian conflict and its alleged relations with the Islamic State jihadists leading the fight against President Bashar al-Assad's forces in some areas.

Ankara has fiercely rejected allegations of complicity with IS, which it blames for a spate of bloody suicide attacks in Turkey.

The case has amplified concerns about press freedom under the rule of Erdogan, who had personally warned Dundar he would "pay a price" over the front-page story.

Rights groups have protested over the charges against the pair and called for their release.

"Turkish political leaders, especially the president, have showed an unprecedented willingness over the last years to create a climate of fear for their critics and demonise their opponents," Human Rights Watch's Turkey representative Emma Sinclair-Webb told reporters last month.