Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip ErdoganReuters

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday filed a criminal complaint against a top daily newspaper and its editor for publishing images allegedly showing trucks belonging to the state intelligence service helping send weapons to rebels in Syria.

Erdogan has accused the opposition daily Cumhuriyet and its editor-in-chief Can Dundar of "publishing images and information contrary to the truth" and "obtaining and disseminating secret information," the official Anatolia news agency reported.

On Friday Cumhuriyet published footage from January 2014 showing Turkish security forces discovering boxes of weapons and ammunition being sent to Syria on National Intelligence Organisation (MIT) trucks intercepted near the Syrian border.

The daily said the footage was proof that Turkey was arming Syrian rebels - a claim the Turkish government vehemently denies.

In an interview with state-run TRT television late Sunday, Erdogan accused Dundar of "espionage" and vowed to punish him by saying: "The person who made the story will pay a heavy price. I will not let him get away with it."

Erdogan on Tuesday again rejected claims that Turkey was aiding jihadists in Syria including the Islamic State (IS) group, claiming the intercepted aid was bound for the Turkmen minority in Syria.

Turkish prosecutors had already opened an investigation against the daily on charges of obtaining secret information, espionage and propaganda for a terror group.

The president's lawsuit, filed by his lawyer Muammer Cemaloglu, is a separate criminal complaint.

Erdogan, who ruled Turkey from 2003 to 2014 as premier and since last year as president, is accused by his opponents of growing authoritarianism and intolerance of criticism.

Concerns have mounted in recent months over media rights in Turkey, with legal proceedings launched against several journalists on accusations of criticizing or insulting Erdogan.  

Turkey already has the largest number of imprisoned journalists in the world.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders condemned Erdogan over his recent attacks on the journalists.

"We call on (Erdogan) to stop bullying journalists and news outlets such as Can Dundar and Cumhuriyet just because he doesn't like what they report," the CPJ said Tuesday.

Cumhuriyet remained defiant on Tuesday, running a headline that read "We are responsible (for the story)," accompanied by the names and photographs of its journalists and columnists.

"We employees at Cumhuriyet assume responsibility along with our editor-in-chief for the story revealing the truth about an incident that was denied by state officials for months," the front-page article said.