The Dündar-Gül case a threat to Turkish media

The Dündar-Gül case a threat to Turkish media

The Istanbul prosecutor’s office asked on Jan. 27 for life imprisonment for two Turkish journalists, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, who had been arrested on suspicions of plotting against the government and military espionage for reporting on an ongoing court case alleging Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MİT) sent weapons to the civil war-hit Syria.

Dündar, the editor-in-chief of center-left daily Cumhuriyet, and Gül, the paper’s Ankara bureau chief, were arrested on Nov. 26, 2015, for printing on May 29, 2015, a document in the court files about the January 2014 incident, which was politically linked by President Tayyip Erdoğan with the alleged attempts to overthrow the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government by U.S.-based Islamist scholar Fethullah Gülen, a former ally of Erdoğan’s and now an arch enemy.

Following the release of the indictment, Dündar and Gül will be tried on charges of “gathering secret state documents for the purposes of political and military espionage,” “attempting to topple the government of the Republic of Turkey or attempting to stop either partially or totally the government from fulfilling its duties” and “deliberate support for a terrorist organization without being a member,” with the possibility of facing life in prison. 

Without knowing the indictment would be released yesterday, a coalition of the world’s most prestigious press freedom organizations had arranged to protest the arrest and isolation of Dündar and Gül in front of the Silivri prison, east of Istanbul, where the two journalists are being held. The group included organizations like the International Press Institute (IPI), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the Ethical Journalism Network (EJN), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), PEN International, the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the South East Europe Media Organization (SEEMO). 

Speaking on behalf of the group, the IPI’s Steven Ellis said, “In recent years, when nearly 100 journalists were held in Turkish prisons, journalists in Turkey were often allowed to visit their imprisoned colleagues. However, in recent months, Turkey’s Justice Ministry has effectively barred most visits for both Dündar and Gül; the only visitors allowed to see them are close family members, lawyers or members of Turkey’s parliament.”

Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş, on the other hand, said in parliament during budget talks that his government was against the “pre-trial detention of journalists,” but that the detentions were made by the judiciary. That statement was made only a few hours before the prosecutor’s demand asking for life imprisonment for the two journalists.

It is no secret that the freedom of the press in Turkey is not enjoying its golden age nowadays. And the Dündar-Gül case is likely to serve as a deterrent factor regarding the freedom of the media and expression in the country.