ISTANBUL : An Istanbul court on Monday acquitted one of Turkey’s most prominent political journalists in a long-running case on espionage charges dating back to an arms interception on the Syrian border in 2014.

Erdem Gul, the Ankara bureau chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet daily, was acquitted by the Istanbul criminal court, the state-run Anadolu news agency said.

Gul had in May 2016 been sentenced to five years in jail and his then editor-in-chief Can Dundar to five years and 10 months for revealing state secrets over their front page story which alleged Turkish secret services sought to deliver arms to Syria rebels. Despite spending time in pre-trial detention, neither was sent to jail immediately and both walked free pending appeal. But in a hugely complex process, Turkey’s top appeals court in March quashed both convictions, saying that Gul should be acquitted but Dundar given a stiffer sentence of up to 20 years.

 A retrial then commenced.

The cases of Gul and Dundar have now been separated and Dundar remains on trial.

Gul is still working in his job for Cumhuriyet but Dundar left Turkey for Germany shortly after the initial verdict, saying he refused to put his head “under the guillotine”.

Cumhuriyet’s report on a shipment of arms intercepted at the Syrian border in January 2014 sparked a furore when it was published, fuelling speculation about Turkey’s role in the Syrian conflict and its alleged ties to Islamist groups.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reacted furiously to the allegations, personally warning Dundar he would “pay a heavy price”.

He has accused Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher blamed by Turkey for the 2016 failed coup, of instigating the scandal to discredit his government.

It was the first in a number of high profile criminal cases against journalists which multiplied after the failed July 2016 coup against Erdogan and amplified concerns over press freedoms in the country.

In a separate case, 13 journalists and staff from Cumhuriyet were given jail sentences of up to seven-and-a-half years in late April on terror-linked charges, which critics said was punishment for the paper’s anti-Erdogan stance.

They are all however still free pending appeal. Gul remains on trial in another separate case.