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Turkey sentences exiled journalist to 27 years for terrorism

December 23, 2020

The former editor-in-chief of Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet was charged with terrorism and espionage. He fled to Germany in 2016, amid Ankara's crackdown on journalists after a failed coup.

Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet
Dundar was convicted for his newspaper's coverage of Turkish arms shipments to Islamist rebels in SyriaImage: Reuters/O.Orsal

Turkish journalist Can Dundar has been sentenced to more than 27 years in prison for allegedly supporting terrorism and "military or political espionage."

A court in Istanbul on Wednesday sentenced Dundar to 18 years and nine months for obtaining state secrets for the purpose of political or military espionage. The court also sentenced him to an additional eight years and nine months for supporting an armed terrorist organization without being a member.

Currently in exile in Germany, the former editor-in-chief of the Turkish opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet was tried in absentia.

Speaking with DW, Dundar said he wasn't surprised by the verdict: "They wanted to punish me because of this true story and at the same time try to intimidate other journalists in Turkey who dare touch that kind of sensitive issue."

"The judicial system is almost totally under the control of Erdogan's government, so there's no hope for the appeal courts," he said. "But we will go to the European Court of Human Rights, and I hope that they will certify that this is not an act of terrorism but an act of journalism."

Judges at Istanbul's Caglayan courthouse issued the verdict despite the absence of the defense team. Dundar's lawyers said they would not attend the final hearing, slamming the charges as politically motivated.

Can Dundar: No faith in Turkish judiciary

"We do not want to be part of a practice to legitimize a previously decided, political verdict," the lawyers said in a written statement on Tuesday ahead of the hearing.

The court delayed its verdict earlier this month after Dundar's lawyers asked for the judges to be replaced to ensure a fair trial. The court rejected the request.

Who is Can Dundar?

Dundar fled to Germany in 2016 to escape legal charges after being convicted of espionage for publishing a story about Turkish arms shipments to Syrian rebels in 2015.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had warned Dundar would "pay a heavy price" for the Cumhuriyet report exposing Turkey's intelligence agency while he was leading the newspaper.

During his exile in Germany, Dundar was given 15 days to return to Turkey but he opted not to.

The court declared Dundar a fugitive and ordered the seizure of his assets in Turkey including four properties in Ankara, Istanbul and Mugla as well as bank accounts in his name.

Turkish authorities also confiscated his wife's passport in September 2016.

In a statement following the court's decision, Dundar rebuked the Turkish government's "unlawful, brutal decision" and noted that the case ended up bringing more attention to his reporting. "I can only thank them for making the story known worldwide," he said.

Reactions to verdict

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the verdict "a hard blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey."

"Journalism is not a crime, but an indispensable service to society — especially when it looks critically at those in power," he tweeted.

The German Journalists' Association (DJV)  denounced the verdict as an "act of barbarism."

"Can Dundar has investigated, reported and exposed — that is good journalism, not a crime," DJV chairman Frank Überall said. 

"In free countries, there are journalist awards for this, but in Turkey, there are dungeons," he added, calling on German authorities to prevent Dundar from being "kidnapped" to Turkey. 

Christian Mihr, director of Reporters Without Borders Germany (RSF) tweeted that the international nonprofit group "criticizes the judgment in the strongest possible terms!"

"Like many other lawsuits against media workers, the trial was a farce!" he added.

In October, the European Union warned Ankara that it was eroding democratic values and said Turkey's chances of ever joining the bloc were evaporating.

Dundar lauded the German public and German media whom he said have "been really supportive" of his plight, but he claims the German government itself is hesitant to "annoy Erdogan and his government," citing concerns over refugee policy, trade and arms sales.

Asked what he thought politicians in Berlin should do regarding relations with Turkey, Dundar told DW: "They should work in solidarity with the forces of democratic struggle in Turkey. There's a huge public will, the people's resistance and the opposition are allied right now and they [the German government] should be more in touch with them. But unfortunately, they are mostly dealing with the Erdogan government and trying not to see that other Turkey."

js,mvb/rt (dpa, AFP, Reuters)

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