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23 December 2020

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ECPMF condemns Turkey court ruling sentencing journalist Can Dündar to over 27 years in prison

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23 December 2020

The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR) strongly condemns the decision of the 14th High Criminal Court today, sentencing journalist Can Dündar, former editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, to twenty-seven years and six months in prison for allegedly supporting terrorism. Dündar, who has been in exile in Germany since 2016, was tried in absentia and sentenced to eighteen years and nine months for “obtaining documents for the purpose of military or political espionage” and seven years and twenty-one months for “aiding a terrorist organisation”. This is a travesty of justice that is indicative of the politically-motivated misuse of the judicial system to harass Can Dündar for his journalistic activities. We call for all charges against him to be dropped, an immediate reversal of the court’s verdict and decision and an end to the judicial harassment of Dündar for his journalistic activities.

 

“We are appalled by this ruling, but  not surprised. Turkish authorities have been relentless in their harassment of Can Dündar and his family for more than five years now. Such an unfair judgement by a court of law against a journalist for doing his job, is a further example that there are political agents manipulating the justice system for their own ends,” said ECPMF’s Deputy Managing Director, Andreas Lamm.

 

Sustained persecution of the journalist by Turkish authorities

We note that on 17 September, the Istanbul 14th Heavy Penal Court declared Can Dündar, who lives in exile in Germany, a fugitive and ordered the seizure of his assets, including four properties in Turkey. In addition, the authorities confiscated his wife’s passport.This is an additional example of the prolonged persecution of the journalist by the Turkish authorities. In October, the European Union (EU) warned Turkey that these actions are undermining democratic values and that their chances of accession to the EU are fading.

 

The current proceedings against him relate to a report from May 2015 on an alleged weapons transfer to Syria on trucks operated by the National Intelligence Agency (MIT), published in daily Cumhuriyet and written by Dündar in his role as editor-in-chief. On 26 November 2015, together with Cumhuriyet’s Ankara representative Erdem Gül, he was arrested on charges of acquiring documents related to state security, political and military espionage, disclosing classified documents and spreading propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organisation. Dündar was held for almost 100 days in Turkey’s Silivri Prison. On 25 February 2016, the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the journalists’ pre-trial detention violated their human rights, and Dündar and Gül were released. 

 

On 6 May 2016, Dündar was convicted of acquiring and disclosing classified documents related to the security of the state, for which he was handed down a prison sentence of five years and ten months. The current retrial started before the Istanbul 14th Heavy Penal Court on 2 April 2019, after the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned the Regional Court of Appeal’s verdict of a prison sentence for disclosing the state’s confidential information in March 2019.

 

In addition, Dündar has faced many instances of judicial harassment, including the June 2020 decision to ban access to the Germany-based online radio station Özgürüz (‘We Are Free’), which he founded and leads.

 

Can Dündar’s case is not an isolated one, ECPMF has been monitoring the press and media situation in Turkey and is deeply concerned about the continued misuse of the judicial system by the Turkish authorities to persecute journalists for their journalistic activities. This illustrates Turkey’s gross lack of press and media freedom and violates the country’s obligations to international and domestic human rights.

This statement has been coordinated by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom as part of the Media Freedom Rapid Response (MFRR), which tracks, monitors and responds to violations of press and media freedom in EU Member States and Candidate Countries. This project provides legal and practical support, public advocacy and information to protect journalists and media workers. The MFRR is organised by an consortium led by the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) with ARTICLE 19, the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), the Institute for Applied Informatics at the University of Leipzig (InfAI), International Press Institute (IPI) and CCI/Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Transeuropa (OBCT). The project is co-funded by the European Commission. www.mfrr.eu

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