A court in Istanbul has charged two journalists from the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper with spying after they alleged Turkey’s secret services had sent arms to Islamist rebels in Syria. Can Dundar the editor-in-chief, (who I have met on my visits to Turkey) and Erdem Gul, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, are accused of spying and “divulging state secrets”. Both journalists were placed in pre-trial detention.
According to media reports, all the charges are related to an article and footage released by Cumhuriyet on May 29 under the headline “Here are the weapons Erdogan claim not to exist”. The article showed images of the gendarmerie and police officers opening crates on the back of trucks which contained what the newspaper described as weapons and ammunition sent to rebel groups in Syria by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in January 2014.
Following the publication of the article, President Erdogan threatened the Cumhuriyet journalists during a live television broadcast that “the person who made this special news will heavily pay for it.” In his criminal complaint, the Turkish President is requesting that each journalist be sentenced to one time aggravated life imprisonment, one time life imprisonment and a further 42 years in prison for “undermining state interest by using falsified images.”
In a joint statement today, the IFJ and EFJ’s Turkish affiliate Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) and Journalists Association of Turkey (TGC), backed by both Federations, strongly condemned the arrest.
“The publication of these articles in question was the duty of journalists towards the public opinion’s right to know. The public’s access to information must be guaranteed and respected. Journalists are not supposed to protect and defend state interests; this is the task of state authorities. The arrest of our colleagues Can Dündar and Erdem Gül is a violation of Turkey’s Constitution, the media law 5187, the Turkish penal code, the jurisprudence of the Turkish Constitutional Court and the European Convention on Human Rights,” said TGS-TGC.
Jim Boumelha, IFJ President, said “we know Can Dündar and the journalists working for Cumhuriyet newspaper well. Dündar was our keynote speaker during our international conference in Istanbul where he described how difficult it is to resist the oppression and never ending forms of prosecution. We demand the Turkish authorities immediately release Can Dündar and Erdem Gül and drop all charges against them”.
Mogens Blicher Bjerregard, EFJ President, said “these arrests will certainly be challenged in regard of articles 5 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights but in the meantime we cannot accept the detention of our colleagues in jail. The public’s right to know can only be guaranteed through the freedom of the press. This case also raises serious questions about the independence of the judiciary in Turkey. In the wake of the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, Turkish authorities should correct the situation by releasing immediately our colleagues”.
The IFJ and EFJ will report this case to the Council of Europe’s platform for the protection and safety of journalists and to the Mapping Media Freedom platform supported by the European Commission.
Meanwhile the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ruled that the right to a fair trial of two journalists in the OdaTV case was violated during the judicial process. I have been reporting on these cases for the past three years (see earlier blogs).
Journalists Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık, who were arrested in March of 2011 on charges of links to Ergenekon, had been held in a top-security prison outside İstanbul until they were released pending trial in March 2012. The OdaTV case was launched as part of a probe into the Ergenekon terrorist organisation. The two filed an appeal with the ECtHR, stating that their right to a fair trial was violated by Turkey. In a ruling it made today, the ECtHR agreed, saying Şener and Şık’s right to a fair trial were violated by Turkey. The top court required Turkey to pay 20,000 euro to Şener and 10,000 euro to Şık as compensation.
Assessing the ruling of the ECtHR, Şener, speaking to the Hürriyet daily, said that it shows that “journalism is not terrorism and books are not bombs,” making a reference to a remark by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who likened a book by Şener to a bomb in an interview in 2011.