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Anabel Hernández and Can Dündar sitting on steps with the ocean and mountains in the background
Anabel Hernandez and Can Dündar share a similar fate: Both journalists fight for the truthImage: DW
Press FreedomMexico

'Guardians of Truth' looks at press freedom

Linda Vierecke
May 3, 2022

In this new DW documentary series, exiled Turkish journalist Can Dündar meets Mexican journalist Anabel Hernandez. Both have paid a high price for their fight for truth.


Renowned Turkish journalist Can Dündar meets exiles and dissidents around the world to talk to them about the fate he himself shares with them. Together with DW editor Linda Vierecke, he has created the DW documentary series "Guardians of Truth." It reveals impressive biographies of people who fearlessly stand up for freedom of expression in many countries.

The series starts with a visit to journalist Anabel Hernandez. A report by Linda Vierecke.

We are sitting in the car, in the middle of the metropolis of Mexico City — it is the evening of November 1. Everything is colorfully decorated, the cemeteries along the way are glowing. All of Mexico is celebrating the Day of the Dead.

Trailer: Can Dündar meets Anabel Hernández

Speculations on Twitter surrounding Turkish president's death

Can Dündar is sitting next to me and checking his Twitter messages. He follows a Turkish hashtag, which translates in English to #HeIsDead. The person in question is Recep Tayyip Erdogan. A follower has posted an ominous video online, fueling speculation that the Turkish president has died.

Months ago, when we started this film project together, Dündar had already said to me: "When Erdogan steps down, I'll be on the first plane back to Istanbul."

Dündar's fate is closely intertwined with that of Erdogan's. After all, the court that sentenced Dündar — in absentia — to 27 years in prison is "almost totally under the control of Erdogan's government," the journalist previously said. The reason: Dündar had made public Turkey's delivery of weapons to Syria. But the journalist had only been doing his job, as editor-in-chief of Cumhurriyet, one of the country's most important daily newspapers. He has been living in exile in Berlin for five years.

But that night, as we were filming in Mexico, Dündar did not take a plane back to Istanbul. Our shoot continued. We worked together on this production for almost a year and the work put to the test some things that I had long taken for granted.

Traveling beyond borders

Traveling with Dündar means checking at every border to see if it is safe for him. That is because Erdogan has tried to have a "red notice" issued for him at Interpol; a request to communicate the whereabouts of a particular person and to temporarily arrest him. When the passport is scanned, a red light then flashes at each border.

It is normally terrorists and internationally wanted criminals who get such a red notice.

Interpol opposed this in Dündar's case, but our fear had still not completely vanished. We also had to check bilateral agreements between countries before each departure. Is there an extradition agreement for Dündar to Turkey? Is Dündar able to safely enter and leave there? Those circumstances played a central role in the search for protagonists for our series.

Pushing boundaries

The police authorities that protect Can Dündar in Germany even advise us against traveling to Italy. It causes me to shudder because I have faith in the police's assessment for the time being. Better safe than sorry, is my first thought. Dündar, however, defends his freedom. "If Italy locks me up, what does that mean for freedom of the press in Europe?" he says and waves it off.

We consider everything critically, but we soon also know: 100% security exists only for those who are hiding from the world. We decide that we want to pursue our work and travel.

Can Dündar wearing sunglasses, next to Anabel Hernandez, in front of a salmon-colored wall
Journalists Can Dündar and Anabel Hernandez don't shy away from tough topicsImage: DW

Mexico and safety

Mexico does not have an extradition treaty with Turkey.

Nevertheless, travel for journalists here is an arduous undertaking. No country in the world is more dangerous for those working in our profession than Mexico. Since 2000, nearly 150 journalists have been killed. The murders are rarely solved.

The other central character of our documentary, Anabel Hernandez, puts her life on the line for her research when she writes about drugs, corruption and government abuse of power.

When 11 armed men show up at her door one day and she is coincidentally not at home, she decides to go into exile for the sake of her family.

But even in exile, she cannot stop thinking about the many unsolved crimes. She travels regularly to her homeland to talk to informants or to interview victims of violent crimes. During these trips, she is protected 24 hours a day by bodyguards.

We, too, travel in Mexico with two bodyguards who once served in the military. The week before our arrival, two journalists were killed again in the country.

Journalists Can Dündar and Anabel Hernández sitting on a bench and talking
Journalists Can Dündar and Anabel Hernandez meet up in exileImage: DW

In Tixtla, in the state of Guerrero, armed men guard the entrance to the small town. The question always remains: What are we allowed to film? What are we not allowed to film? When does it become really dangerous for us?

We meet Mario, who is digging in the ground with a pole on the hills of Mexico, searching for the remains of his brother, who was kidnapped a few years ago and never reappeared.

Hernandez is trying to solve cases like this to ease some of the suffering of the relatives. The bodyguards urge us to be back on the highway before nightfall because armed robberies of vehicles are a daily occurrence in this area.

I sleep badly during the night because I don't feel safe. But for us, it is only one week of feeling like it's a state of emergency. For many journalists in Mexico, however, threats are part of everyday life.

Cultivating trust

 Can Dündar holding something up on a table, with Rosa Maria and Anabel Hernández smiling alongside him.
Anabel Hernandez (r) takes Can Dünbar to meet her mother, Rosa MariaImage: firsthandfilms

When shooting the documentary about Mexican investigative journalist Anabel Hernandez, it is always necessary to weigh things carefully: What are we allowed to depict? Places, people, routes, details — everything is discussed in detail because, of course, we don't want to endanger her or her family. People in exile often leave behind family and friends, who then remain exposed to danger.

Hernandez also protects her informants: We can only recreate an interview because showing the informants in images would endanger their safety.

We realize how great her trust in us is when she takes us to her mother's home. Rosa Maria is immensely proud of her daughter, but also worried sick. Yet the mother has never stood in her way. She knows that the truth is more important to Anabel Hernandez than her own safety.


Broadcasting Hours of "Guardians of Truth": 

DW English

TUE 03.05.2022 - 02:03 UTC
SAT 07.05.2022 – 11:03 UTC
SAT 07.05.2022 – 22:03 UTC
SUN 08.05.2022 – 05:03 UTC

Lagos UTC +1 | Cape Town UTC +2 | Nairobi UTC +3
Delhi UTC +5,5 | Bangkok UTC +7 | Hong Kong UTC +8
London UTC +1 | Berlin UTC +2 | Moscow UTC +3
San Francisco UTC -7 | Edmonton UTC -6 | New York UTC -4

This article was originally written in German.

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