Speaking to a meeting called by English PEN, in partnership with the Centre for Turkey Studies in London on 29 June journalist Can Dündar, Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, who along with his colleague Erdem Gül were recently sentenced to five years and 10 months and five years respectively for revealing state secrets, called on journalists to publicise the truth about what is happening to the shrinking free media in Turkey.
Can, who is currently touring European cities publicising their case and those of dozens of other journalists who face censorship and prison, explained the background to the case against himself and Erdem (see earlier blogs – 27 Feb; 23 & 27 March; 2 & 18 April). For revealing that the intelligence services were trafficking arms to Syria to radical Islamic groups, they were both charged with spying, aiding terrorism, attempting to topple the government and revealing state secrets. Although the first session of the trial held on 25 March (which I attended and reported on 27 March) was held in public, later sessions were held in secret. After the session held at the main Istanbul court in May, when the sentences were handed down, he survived an attack by a gunman who fired at him outside the court building. His wife Dilek, who grabbed the gunman, was also at the London meeting with their son Ege Dündar. Can said that the sentences were being appealed, a process which could take up to a year. Meanwhile his passport had been returned to him by the authorities and he was free to travel for the moment.
He went onto report recent developments in the case of Şebnem Korur Fincancı (President of Turkey Human Rights Foundation), Erol Önderoğlu (journalist at Bianet and RSF Turkey correspondent) and Ahmet Nesin (journalist and author). The three acting editor-in-chief of the Kurdish daily newspaper Özgür Gündem were arrested on 20 June over ‘terror propaganda’ because of their participation as temporary editor-in-chief to the production of the newspaper as part of the project called Editors in Chief on Watch coordinated by Özgür Gündem daily. (The following day 30 June Erol and Sebnem were released pending trial – it is not clear if Ahmet will be released.)
Following the update, the meeting discussed ways of highlighting the deteriorating situation in Turkey were over 30 journalists are in jail and up to 2,000 people, many of them journalists, face charges of insulting the President. There was an urgent need for the international community to exert pressure on President Erdoğan who had control over 80% of the media in Turkey. Ways of improving links between journalists in the UK and Turkey were discussed in order to achieve more publicity exposing the attacks on free speech and the right to report. There was also the need to build solidarity with other professions under attack. The entire fabric of civil society in Turkey was getting weaker, with the government also tightening its grip on the army and judiciary. Developing links with Turkish and Kurdish groups, especially in London, was discussed.
In the evening Can addressed a packed meeting in Westminster called by the Centre for Turkey Studies and chaired by Lord Jeremy Purvis of Tweed. Can opened his remarks by offering condolences to families and friends who had suffered in the terror attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. In a powerful and well received presentation, Can reminded the meeting that he had been a journalist for nearly forty years in both TV and newspapers and journalism had never been so hellish as it is now. It had been his first time in prison and the first time he had been attached by a gunman. Now Turkey was the biggest prison in the world for journalists, surpassing China.
He went on to talk about the attacks by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its leader President Erdogan on western republican and secular values in Turkey established in the early 1920’s by Kamal Ataturk, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He was critical of the recent agreement between the EU and President Erdoğan, which had resulted in Turkey protecting European boarders by keeping out refugees who were fleeing war and oppression. In return for money and the possibility of visa free travel to some EU countries, the European Commission had abandoned its commitments to the human rights in his country.
He concluded by saying that fear was the greatest enemy in the struggle calling on the West to stop Turkey sliding into a fascist state.
In the following question and answer session Can described the financial crisis facing what was left of the free media and the impact on society of the extensive government control over the media, army and judiciary. This coupled with the weakening of civil society highlighted the need for greater international solidarity and support. In reply to a question he spoke compassionately about the Kurdish struggle, arguing for peace talks and negotiations. In reply to a question about the state of the opposition in Turkey he said it was “very difficult” and called again that the Western media step up their efforts to draw attention to these issues in order to isolate Erdoğan and show the Turkish communities abroad the true nature of his despotic rule.
A fuller report on the Westminster meeting can be found on the Centre for Turkey Studies at: http://ceftus.org/2016/07/01/westminster-debate-with-can-dundar-quo-vadis-turkiye/