A Turkish court Monday charged five more journalists with involvement in an alleged plot to overthrow Turkey's Islamist-rooted government. According to human rights groups, more than 60 journalists are now in detention for their reporting.
But the latest arrests, which include two prominent journalists, have provoked widespread concern and condemnation both in Turkey and the European Union, whose parliament is due later this week to discuss its annual report on the country.
The latest arrests of journalists in Turkey saw thousands of people take to the streets in protests both in Istanbul and the capital, Ankara. For many, the detention of two of the country's leading investigative journalists has caused feelings of shock and anger.
"It's about freedom of us, because I am not a journalist, but I have the right to reach through an independent news," one person said.
"This is unbearable and for me, it's a sign of a terrible thing," said another.
Until recently, most Turkish prosecutors were targeting pro-Kurdish reporters. But increasingly, government critics are also being investigated in connection with an alleged conspiracy by the Ergenekon network, a secularist group authorities suspect is planning bombings and other attacks to discredit the government and trigger a military takeover. The jailing of two of Turkey's leading and widely respected investigative journalists in connection with the Ergenekon investigation has posed serious questions about its legitimacy.
Emma Sinclair Webb of the U.S.-based group Human Rights Watch conveys the growing sense of concern. "Our fear now is that the investigation into the Ergenekon gang has taken a quite different turn and what is now being investigated is in fact critical reporting and journalism," she said.
Concerns about the latest prosecutions are shared by the U.S. State Department. Spokesman P.J. Crowley on Thursday said the United States would monitor trends in Turkey and the ongoing arrests of journalists.
European Union Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fuele says Turkey is in urgent need of legal reform to protect freedom of the press. In last year's accession report on Turkey, the EU said the jailing of journalists and press freedom were highlighted as areas of major concern. The European Parliament's annual report on Turkey, which is to be debated on Tuesday, also is expected to carry the same message. But Turkey's minister for EU affairs, Ergemen Bagis, says his government is not to blame.
"Blaming the government for the judicial process for the ongoing lawsuits is a contradiction. On the one side, you want the judicial branch to be independent of the executive branch; on the other side, blaming the executive branch for not interfering in the process of the judicial branch is a contradiction," he said.
Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin says his government is committed to freedom of speech, saying he has personally blocked the prosecution of many cases against writers and journalists. But with the number of reporters being arrested and jailed growing nearly every month, most of whom are investigating alleged government misdeeds, prominent newspaper columnist Kadri Gursel says he and fellow writers are under increasing pressure.
"I have to be careful. I have to watch my steps to survive and to fulfill my job," he said.
Observers say growing concerns about press freedom come at a critical time with Turkey heading towards a general election this June.