updated 3/6/2011 10:31:10 AM ET 2011-03-06T15:31:10

A Turkish court on Sunday ordered two leading investigative journalists jailed pending the outcome of a trial into an alleged plot to topple the Islamic-rooted government, raising further concerns over media freedom in the country.

Nedim Sener and Ahmet Sik were charged with links to the alleged conspiracy to overthrow Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government in 2003, and ordered jailed, the state-run Anatolia news agency reported.

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Police had raided their homes, seized hard disks and notes as evidence and detained them along with six other journalists on Thursday, drawing expressions of concern from Western governments and international media rights groups. One of the six was released without charge on Sunday, while the others were still being questioned.

About 400 suspects are already on trial for membership in the alleged hardline secularist network, called Ergenekon, which prosecutors say plotted to create chaos in Turkey and overthrow the government. The government insists the trial is strengthening democratic rule in Turkey by helping to unravel shady networks linked to state institutions that once operated with impunity in Turkey.

Critics contend that the government is using the Ergenekon case to jail Erdogan's secular-minded foes and undermine Turkey's secular legacy. They say there is no solid evidence against many of the accused and denounce their long detention periods.

The prosecutor's office issued a brief statement saying the journalists were not detained because of their reporting.

"The investigation is not about opinions or books that have been written," the statement said, according to Hurriyet and Milliyet newspapers. "No one has been detained because of their duty."

There is evidence "that cannot be disclosed due to the confidentiality of the investigation," the statement said.

Earlier, President Abdullah Gul was quoted as expressing worries that the detentions were undermining a country that some have touted as a model democracy for Middle Eastern nations.

"When I follow the developments, the impression I get is that there are certain developments that the public conscience cannot accept," he told Milliyet newspaper in an interview published Sunday. "This is casting a shadow over the level that Turkey has reached and the image that is lauded by everyone. I am concerned about this."

Erdogan and other government members have insisted the case is being handled by the independent judiciary and has nothing to do with the arrests.

Journalists staged an all night protest outside the courthouse where Sik and Sener were being questioned, demanding their release and blocking traffic on a main road.

The journalists' detentions come amid an upswing in cases filed by state prosecutors against reporters. The Turkish Journalists' Association says thousands of journalists face prosecution, and about 60 are currently imprisoned for their writings. In addition, massive tax fines against the Dogan business group, which owns secular-oriented media outlets including Hurriyet newspaper, are viewed by some as a government-engineered attack on press critics.

Thursday's detentions were a follow up to a raid last month on the anti-government news website Oda TV and the detention of its owner and two of his colleagues.

Sik was already on trial for a book he co-authored about the Ergenekon case. He had just finished writing another book that focuses on the influence of an Islamic group within the police force, when he was detained, newspaper reports said. Ironically, some of his earlier reporting had been used as evidence in the prosecutors' indictment against the Ergenekon defendants.

Sener is known for a book about alleged intelligence failures that he claims led to the 2007 murder of Hrant Dink, an ethnic Armenian journalist.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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