January 30, 2020

With RSF’s support, leading Turkish journalist sues Turkish diplomat

Can Dündar / RSF
With support from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Turkish journalist Can Dündar filed a defamation suit in Strasbourg today against Turkey’s permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Kaan Esener, who called him a “criminal” and a “fugitive” last November at the Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy.

Esener used these defamatory terms to describe Dündar – a documentary filmmaker, former editor of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet and bugbear of the Turkish government – during a round-table on journalists’ security in Strasbourg on 7 November.


Speaking in English, Esener said: “I'm the Turkish permanent representative to the Council of Europe. I just want to make a remark about the participation of a criminal as a panellist here and I must protest. Can Dündar is a fugitive from justice, he is charged with obtaining state secrets and disseminating them under instructions from a cult leader, in order to inflict harm to interests of the Turkish nation and the Turkish state.”


The complaint was filed today with the senior investigating judge in Strasbourg on Dündar’s behalf by Benoît Huet, a member of the Paris bar who has worked for years with RSF and who registered RSF as an interested party in this case.


“Can Dündar has done nothing more than exercise his profession, which is to provide information,” Huet said. “His articles make a decisive contribution to the public debate on a matter of general interest, namely the Turkish government’s foreign policy.”


Dündar has been subjected to threats and harassment by the Turkish government for years. After he published a story about arms supplies by the Turkish intelligence agency MIT to radical Islamist groups in Syria, President Erdogan threatened him publicly, saying: “I will make him pay dearly.”


“Calling Can Dündar a criminal is clearly defamatory,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “How can one use the word criminal to describe a talented journalist who does honour to his country and has used his freedom solely on behalf of truth. These comments also violated his right to be presumed innocent before the Turkish courts, which are nonetheless used to imprisoning journalists. This journalist has never been the subject of a confirmed conviction by his country’s judicial system. Such allegations constitute an unacceptable attempt to intimidate a reporter living in exile and to prevent him expressing himself in an international forum.”


Dündar was arrested in November 2015 on charges of obtaining and divulging state secrets, trying to overthrow the government and spying. A Turkish court convicted him in in 2016 but this conviction was quashed by the Court of Cassation on 9 May 2018. He was allowed to remain free pending an appeal decision and is not the subject of any definitive criminal conviction.


In May 2016, he was the target of a murder attempt outside the Istanbul law courts, as a result of which he now lives in self-imposed exile in Germany.


Dündar is one of the 25 members of the Information and Democracy Commission, which was created at RSF’s initiative. RSF reiterates its call for the withdrawal of all the charges against him.


Turkey is ranked 157th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.