On November 26, 2015, an Istanbul court ordered Can Dündar, chief editor of the independent daily Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gül, the daily’s Ankara bureau chief, to be held in pre-trial detention on charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist group, according to reports. The journalists’ arrests are connected to reports published in Cumhuriyet in May and June 2015 that alleged Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had transferred weapons to Syria under the cover of humanitarian aid, according to court documents reviewed by CPJ.
The report in May 2015 alleged that weapons were found on two occasions in January 2014, when Turkish gendarmerie stopped trucks in southern Hatay and Adana provinces on the orders of local prosecutors. The Cumhuriyet report was published under the headline: “Here are the weapons that Erdoğan says do not exist.” In a follow up story by Gül, published on June 11, 2015, Cumhuriyet published images that it said allegedly showed the MİT transporting weapons to Syria. Turkish authorities deny that the trucks contained weapons, according to reports.
On May 29, 2015, the same day Cumhuriyet published its 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. 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,” Erdoğan said during a live broadcast on the state-owned Turkish Radio and Television.
According to court documents reviewed by CPJ, the journalists were accused on November 26, 2015 of exposing secret documents and espionage for an alleged terrorist organization the government claims is led by U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gülen. According to the documents, authorities said that Dündar and Gül 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.” Dündar and Gül denied the accusations, the court documents showed.
According to the documents reviewed by CPJ, authorities said videos included in Cumhuriyet’s report, which allegedly show the discovery of weapons alongside medical equipment on the trucks, were forged, and said the trucks’ loads were a matter of national security.
The journalists were sent to Silivri prison in Istanbul, according to reports. An appeal lodged by Cumhuriyet’s legal team on November 30, 2015 was rejected, reports said.