March 24, 2016 - Updated on May 19, 2016

Dündar/Gül trial – RSF opposes Erdogan’s “autocratic retribution”

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) will attend the opening of the trial of Cumhuriyet journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül tomorrow in Istanbul and will continue to defend Turkey’s journalists for as long as its increasingly despotic president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, keeps persecuting the media.

Dündar, Cumhuriyet’s editor, and Gül, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, arefacing the possibility of life imprisonment over their revelations about Turkish arms deliveries to Islamist groups in Syria – revelations of crucial importance for all those interested in the repercussions of the Syrian conflict and in terrorism.

A constitutional court ruling ended their pre-trial detention in February, after three months, but President Erdogan said he would not respect this decision.

“The trial of Dündar and Gül is a test for the rule of law in Turkey,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “We are stunned by President Erdogan’s repeated intervention in this case since personally filing the original complaint, showing that it has all the characteristics of an autocratic retribution.

“The conditional release of Dündar and Gül was encouraging but everything is just beginning. We urge the court to dismiss the absurd charges that have been brought against these two journalists.”

Dündar and Gül are charged with divulging state secrets for the purposes of espionage, trying to overthrow the government and helping a terrorist organization. At the initial hearing, the court will have to decide whether, at the prosecution’s request, the case will be heard behind closed doors and whether it will be merged with another case that has around 100 defendants.

The court’s assent to these requests would violate the rights of the defence and the public’s right to information.

RSF’s campaigning

Cumhuriyet was awarded the 2015 Reporters Without Borders-TV5 Monde Press Freedom Prize in the media category in Strasbourg on 17 November. Nine days later, Dündar and Gül were arrested and taken to Silivri prison.

Ever since then, RSF has been using all possible advocacy channels, both private and public, to draw attention to their case and to the repressive spiral in Turkey, and to mobilize foreign ministries and international bodies.

With representatives of 15 embassies in attendance, RSF gave a news conference in Istanbul on 1 December to launch an appeal on behalf of the two Cumhuriyet journalists. The appeal was supported by more than a dozen NGOs and by many well-known international figures such as US journalist Carl Bernstein, USphilosopher Noam Chomsky and French economist Thomas Piketty.

A petition was also launched that has so far gathered more than 30,000 signatures.

RSF has organized other news conferences and events, it has organized visits by Dündar’s wife, Dilek Dündar, to Washington and Paris, it has launched a media campaign, it has issued press releases, it has pleaded the cause of Turkey’s journalists with leaders capable of exercising influence (including representatives of the Council of Europe, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the European Union) and it has mobilized the support of the US State Department and European foreign ministries.

RSF has also pooled efforts with other international and Turkish free speech groups (TGC, TGS, IPI, CPJ, FEJ, FIJ, Article19, Index on Censorship, WAN-IFRA, PEN International, AEJ, EJN, SEEMO and DISK Basin-Is) in a large coalition.

After a joint visit to Turkey in October, the coalition issued a joint report and asked to be allowed to visit several imprisoned journalists. When the prison authorities refused, various coalition representatives (including an RSF representative) demonstrated outside Silivri prison in January in protest against this decision and in solidarity with imprisoned journalists.