A prominent Turkish journalist was sentenced in absentia to more than 27 years in prison on terrorism-related charges that his legal team described as politically motivated.
Can Dündar, who edited Turkey’s Cumhuriyet newspaper before fleeing to Germany in 2016, was previously found guilty by an Istanbul court for spying and assisting an armed terrorist organization.
His lawyers refused to attend the final hearing on Wednesday, saying in a written statement that “we don’t want to be part of a practice to legitimize a previously decided political verdict.” They will appeal the verdict.
“It is sad and strange to know what the verdict in my case would be before it was even over. There are no more ways to defend yourself in Turkey because the judges and the judiciary are not to be trusted, ”Dündar told the Guardian.
“The message that the Turkish government is sending here for punishing a journalist so harshly is that ‘If you cover sensitive issues, this is what will happen to you’. My fear is that this verdict will further prevent journalists who are still in Turkey from doing their jobs. “
Dündar was sentenced to 18 years and nine months for “obtaining confidential information for spying” related to his journalism, and another eight years and nine months for helping the followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom Ankara blames for the 2016 coup attempt.
Dündar, a vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, is one of the best known of the thousands of Turkish journalists, politicians, academics, lawyers and civil servants who have been wiped out in the Turkish state’s crackdown on dissidents recently over the years. Critical media were closed or bought by people with ties to Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). Almost half of Cumhuriyet’s team was arrested.
The government claims that Turkey’s courts operate independently and that its actions are justified by the serious threats the country faces.
Dündar and Erdem Gül, head of Cumhuriyet’s branch in Ankara, were first arrested in 2015 and sentenced to five years in prison each for breaking news about the alleged transfer of arms to Syrian fighters on the southern border of Turkey in trucks operated by Turkish intelligence services.
The report infuriated Erdoğan, who said at the time that the trucks were bringing aid to Syria and promised that Cumhuriyet “would pay a high price” for publishing the story.
Since then, Turkey has launched four cross-border operations and openly supports an umbrella of militant groups fighting in the civil war in Syria.
The duo was later released pending appeal, but Dündar was again sentenced to nearly six years in May 2016 for “obtaining and disclosing confidential documents related to state security”. He was shot by an attacker outside the courtroom during the hearing, but escaped unharmed.
The supreme appeals court overturned Dündar and Gül’s convictions in 2018, but an Istanbul court resumed its trial in May of that year.
Turkish authorities have already requested the extradition of Dündar from Germany and froze his assets in Turkey in October.
According to the annual global report of the Committee to Protect Journalists, released last week, Turkey ranked second, behind China, among the largest jailers of media workers. He found that 37 journalists were arrested in Turkey in 2020 – less than half the number detained in 2016, at the time of the coup attempt.
“I am no longer stuck in Turkey, but my wife and I still pay a very high price,” said Dündar.
“Everything I had is gone. After 40 years in journalism, we have to start again. That is the price we have to pay for defending the truth. “