Can Dundar, a prominent journalist in exile since 2016, has been sentenced to 27 years in prison. This sentence is considered a continuation of the imprisonment of journalists through the use of arbitrary terrorism charges, as well as persistent harassment and suppression of media freedom by Turkey’s ruling AKP.
The sentence issued to Dundar relates to the publication of a news story evidencing the complicity of the National Intelligence Organisation of Turkey (MIT) in providing arms to ISIS in Syria. The story exposed the AKP government’s lies at the time. At the time some representatives of the government said that the arms were being transported to “Turkmen”, while others said that this was a transfer of “humanitarian aid.” In response to the news story, President Erdogan labelled Dundar as “the enemy of the state” and threatened that Dundar would “pay a heavy price”. Subsequently in 2016 Dundar, was sentenced to five years in prison and later released pending appeal.
In March 2018, the Supreme Court of Appeals reversed Dundar’s conviction for disclosing classified documents, saying that he should have been charged with espionage. A retrial began later the same year to which the current sentence relates.
Following outcry by journalists, political parties and democracy campaigners all over the world against Dundar’s latest sentence, President Erdogan’s communications director claimed that Dundar’s sentence does not violate freedom of expression and said that Turkey expects Germany to accept the court’s decision and extradite Can Dundar.
Meanwhile the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas responded to the extradition demand of exiled journalist by calling the verdict “a hard blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey.”
There has also been fierce reaction against the presiding judge in the sentencing of Dundar, who cited charges including “political espionage” and “aiding a terrorist organisation” in his decision to hand down a 27 year sentence. Few months ago the same judge also ordered the seizure of Dundar’s properties in Turkey as well as bank accounts in his name.
The judge, Akın Gurlek, is notoriously known for the heavy prison sentences in politically motivated lawsuits, and is frequently chosen to lead high-profile cases closely followed by the public. His history is full of rulings reflecting Erdogan’s significant control over the decisions of the judiciary.
Notably, Gurlek’s list includes the trials of Selahattin Demirtas – former co-leader of Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selcuk Kozagacli, – the Chair of Progressive Lawyers Association, and Canan Kaftancioglu – Republican People’s Party (CHP) Istanbul Chair.
Gurlek was also the judge in the trial of Academics for Peace and behind the prison sentence issued to Sebnem Korur Fincanci, a prominent medical human rights expert and current Chair of Turkish Medical Association (TTB). He also refused to implement the Constitutional Court’s “rights violation” decision regarding Enis Berberoglu, former MP from CHP.
These cases are all cited as evidence of the lack of independence of the judiciary in Turkey and how through hand picked judicial appointments President Erdogan exercises direct control over the actions of the judiciary.
As SPOT we stand in solidarity with Can Dundar and all journalists who are facing oppression and imprisonment under the Erdogan regime.