A victory for the rule of law in Turkey
The Constitutional Court’s ruling on daily Cumhuriyet’s Editor in Chief Can Dündar and Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül will help restore confidence in Turkey’s legal system, which increasingly has appeared to have been co-opted by the Presidency and the party in power.
This ruling will also help restore Turkey’s international reputation, which has been seriously tarnished due to the erosion of democratic rights and civil liberties in this country.
Dündar and Gül were accused of “espionage” for an article in Cumhuriyet about clandestine arms shipments by the authorities to Syria in January 2014. The shipment was revealed when it was intercepted by the gendarmerie acting on a tip-off.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally targeted Dündar and said “he would pay heavily” for what he had done. It was not long before a case was brought against Dündar and Gül by a court, giving the impression of acting under orders from above.
The Constitutional Court, however, said Dündar and Gül had acted according to Constitutional articles protecting press freedom and freedom of expression, and added that their rights had been violated. After the ruling, both were released from prison where they had been held for 92 days.
A fuming Erdoğan told reporters on Feb. 28 he was “not prepared to accept the Constitutional Courts ruling, and would not comply with it or respect it.” It is his privilege to not respect the ruling, of course, but by indicating that he would not comply with it, it is clear that the Presidency will continue to push for this case, which is ongoing, to end with a conviction.
Presidential Spokesman İbrahim Kalın said so much after the high court’s ruling, indicating at a press conference that the case was not over and that they would follow it very closely. He also brought up the cases of Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, arguing that the West was engaged in double standards by remaining silent on those cases while criticizing the case against Dündar and Gül.
Kalın asked rhetorically why Assange, of Wikileaks fame, had taken refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. But, as a U.S. educated, fluent English speaker, he was surely aware that he was mixing apples and pears.
Assange took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy to avoid extradition to Sweden where he faces rape and sexual molestation charges. He does not face espionage charges Britain or Sweden. Assange is worried that Sweden will extradite him to the U.S., where he could face the death penalty for espionage.
But former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has said his country would not extradite a suspect to a country where they could face the death penalty. Many also argue that Sweden’s liberal legal system would make extradition to the U.S. difficult.
It is also questionable whether Assange, a computer programmer, is a journalist in the strict sense of the word. At any rate, his much debated case is a complicated one and can’t be used as an example against Dündar and Gül, two bona fide journalists.
As for Manning and Snowden, Kalın is on even thinner ice. Manning was in the U.S. army and Snowden was working for the U.S. government when they leaked classified information. Neither were journalists. No Western journalist has been charged with espionage for publishing information they leaked.
For Kalın’s examples to be valid, it would have to be those who tipped off the gendarmerie about the shipment of arms to Syria who are arrested and tried, not the journalists who reported on this case.
Erdoğan supporters will of course continue to use the Assange, Manning and Snowden cases even if they are not valid examples. The Constitutional Court, however, has clearly shown it is not swayed by attempts at manipulating perceptions, but acts on the stipulations of the constitution.
This is a victory for the rule of law in Turkey.