Can Dündar, chief editor of the Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, was arrested along with his colleague, Erdem Gül, on November 26, 2015, on charges of disclosing state secrets, espionage, and aiding a terrorist group. The two spent 92 days in custody before being released, pending trial, on February 26, 2016.
The charges relate to a May 2015 report by Dündar alleging that Turkey’s intelligence service sought to send weapons to Syrian rebel groups. In May 2015, Cumhuriyet published a report that alleged weapons were found twice in January 2014 when Turkish gendarmerie stopped trucks in southern Hatay and Adana provinces on the orders of local prosecutors. The report was published under the headline, “Here are the weapons that Erdoğan says do not exist.”
On May 29, 2015, the same day Cumhuriyet published the story, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he had filed a criminal complaint against the daily. “What only matters to them is casting a shadow on Turkey’s image,” Erdoğan said during a June 1, 2015, live broadcast on the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television. “I suppose the person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price for this. … I will not leave go of him.”
According to court documents reviewed by CPJ, Dündar and Gül were accused of exposing secret documents on behalf of followers of Fethullah Gülen, a preacher whom the Turkish government accuses of maintaining a terrorist organization and “parallel state structure” in Turkey from his self-imposed exile in the United States. Authorities said the two were arrested for “knowingly and willingly aiding an armed terrorist organization,” “terrorist organization membership,” and “obtaining and exposing secret documents of the state for means of political and military espionage,” though the terrorism charges were subsequently dropped. Dündar and Gül denied all the allegations.
CPJ representatives attended the opening session of Dündar’s and Gül’s trial on March 25, 2016. A few hours after it began, the trial was closed to the media and the public, and the presiding judge granted prosecutors’ request to admit President Erdoğan and the Turkish Intelligence Agency as official complainants in the case, despite protests by the defense that the move would jeopardize the independence and fairness of the trial.
At a break in the trial on May 6, when Dündar was outside the courthouse talking to journalists, a man approached him and shot at him twice, after shouting that the journalist was a “traitor.” Dündar was unharmed, but a TV reporter at the scene was injured by a stray bullet.
That day, the court sentenced Dündar to seven years in prison, reduced to five years and 10 months, on charges of revealing state secrets that could harm the security of the state or its domestic or foreign interests. Gül was sentenced to six years in prison, reduced to five years. They remain free, with no restrictions on their travel, pending the outcome of the appeal. They still face separate charges of “committing a crime in the name of a [terrorist] organization without being a member.”
The staff of Cumhuriyet together face dozens of pending criminal investigations and charges in retaliation for their work, including under the country’s vaguely worded anti-terrorism law, which Turkish authorities routinely use to jail journalists who cover sensitive subjects. In late October, Istanbul police raided the Cumhuriyet offices and detained at least 12 journalists and directors, accusing them of producing propaganda for the PKK. Cumhuriyet reported that police were also seeking Dündar, who is out of the country.
The text of Can Dündar’s acceptance speech, as prepared for delivery, is below.
Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I come from the world’s biggest prison for journalists.
Last November, I was in solitary confinement because my government was embarrassed by what I reported.
There were many things forbidden in jail–computers, typewriters, phones. And I understood that. Communication tools are the nightmare of authoritarian regimes.
But what I found bizarre was the ban on color pens. I believe that this ban is symbolic of intolerance to diversity. The government is trying to paint everything in a single, dark color. It is aiming to get rid of all otherness–in information and expression.
My cell had a tiny garden, but it was made of concrete. Soil and flowers were forbidden. I guess that made sense–soil is a symbol of nourishment, and flowers, of hope. Neither is welcome in prison.
I resisted the ban on colors by making my own paints. I pressed fruits in my cell, and used their juices to color the flowers I had drawn with a black pen. I secretly smuggled these paintings out of prison.
I wanted to prove that color can exist even in the darkest of places.
Those of us who want a multicolor Turkey have been defending our differences, our lifestyles, and our freedoms against an authoritarian government that seeks to cloak a modern country in a curtain of darkness.
The Turkish government is trying to impose religious doctrine on a uniquely secular state. It is pulling Turkey away from Europe. It is bypassing parliament and hijacking our universities, the judiciary, and the media.
A free, democratic Turkey is being destroyed before the world’s very eyes. But the West is turning a blind eye for the sake of realpolitik and at the expense of its own values.
More than 140 journalists have been locked up in Turkish prisons. Ten journalists from my own newspaper, Cumhuriyet, were arrested this month. Behind the grim statistics stand human beings, some of them my friends, with their lives interrupted and their fates uncertain. We have fought together for years for our right to freedom of the press and the public’s right to be informed.
Turkey’s brightest colors are being dulled today. The great Turkish author Yaşar Kemal likened the Earth to “a garden of a thousand and one colors.” Virtually every corner of the Earth is now threatened by the rise of nationalist, authoritarian factions that seek to destroy diversity and replace it with a gray, concrete cell.
It is our responsibility to defend our garden. And we must do so with belief, courage, and determination. Even at the price of our own freedom. Even at the expense of our own lives.
Thank you, CPJ, for this award, which I accept on behalf of my colleagues in jail. As this headline says, “We will never give up.” (Holds up newspaper with headline in Turkish.)