Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns today’s insane decision by a Turkish court to sentence the well-known journalist Can Dündar to more than 27 years in prison on charges of spying and abetting a terrorist organization, and calls on the judicial authorities to quash this conviction.
The prosecution had requested up to 35 years in prison for Dündar, the Cumhuriyet daily newspaper’s former editor, who now lives in self-imposed exile in Germany.
“This insane and shocking decision confirms that President Erdogan’s regime is unable to halt its headlong flight into ever-greater authoritarianism,” RSF editor-in-chief Pauline Adès-Mével said. “More than any other case, it shows the degree to which journalists are subjected to judicial persecution in Turkey. Even if Can Dündar now lives freely in Germany, we call for this eminent journalist’s conviction to be overturned.”
Dündar’s judicial problems began in 2015, when Cumhuriyet published a story headlined “İşte Erdoğan’ın yok dediği silahlar” (“Here are the weapons that Erdogan said do not exist”). It was accompanied by photos and videos that showed that Turkish intelligence was helping to supplies weapons to Islamist groups in Turkey.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan responded by threatening him on the air on the state TV channel TRT: “The person who wrote that exclusive article will pay dearly. I won’t let him get away with it.”
Dündar was jailed in November 2015 on charges of “obtaining and disseminating classified state information for the purpose of political or military espionage” and “support for an armed terrorist organization without being a member.” After three months in prison, he was released on the basis of a ruling by the Constitutional Court, which said his arrest was unconstitutional. The trial of Dündar and Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, began in March 2016.
After appearing in court on 6 May 2016 on various charges including “support for a terrorist organization,” Dündar narrowly escaped an armed attack as he left the court building in the Istanbul district of Caglayan. The light sentence passed on his assailant (10 months in prison) convinced Dündar that he should leave Turkey.
In March 2018, Turkey’s Court of Cassation overturned the verdict that had been issued in Dündar’s trial in 2016 and called for a retrial, with “espionage” to be included in the charge. Gül was acquitted. The retrial began in Istanbul in April 2019, resulting in today’s verdict and sentences.
In Germany, Dündar founded the Turkish-language news website Özgürüz (“We are free”). He is now also a member of the International Commission of the (RSF-launched) Information and Democracy Initiative.
Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.