Turkish court sentences newspaper editor to 27 years in prison over news report

Turkish court sentences newspaper editor to 27 years in prison over news report
A Turkish court has sentenced a journalist of one of the country's biggest newspapers to 27 years in prison on espionage charges.
2 min read
24 December, 2020
Can Dundar was sentenced in absentia [Getty]

A Turkish court has sentenced a journalist and editor to 27 years in prison in absentia on charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist group.

Can Dundar, a Turkish national currently in exile in Germany, received charges related to an article and video footage in 2015 published by the Cumhuriyet newspaper.

The article in question alleged that Turkey’s intelligence agency had covertly sent weapons to Syria.

Dundar’s legal representatives had not appeared at his sentencing hearing, arguing that that the court had not given the "appearance of being impartial and independent".

Dundar, who has contributes to The Washington Post, left Turkey in 2016, less than a year after he had been arrested, along with colleague Erdem Gul during a crackdown on journalists by the government following a failed coup attempt.

Human Rights Watch had spoken out against Dundar’s arrest and subsequent charges.

"The trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gul is about putting journalism itself on trial and is one of the most flawed prosecutions in Turkey in recent times," said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Human Rights Watch's senior Turkey researcher at at the time.

"Reporting on arms shipments is a matter of public interest in any country whether the government likes it or not."

"Dundar and Gul are being tried on the very same baseless charges that the president suggested in his personal complaint against them last June," Sinclair-Webb added.

"This demonstrates the pressures from above on Turkey’s prosecutors."

At the time Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the state broadcaster: "I should think that the person who makes this news as special news will pay a heavy price. I will not leave him as is".

In May 2016 Dundar had been attacked by a gunman on the courthouse steps, and an appeals court overturned the convictions and ordered retrials for him and Gul.

Gul was acquitted in 2018 but Dundar was found guilty in absentia.

Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan’s spokesman took to Twitter and called for Dundar’s extradition from Germany. "To call him a journalist — and his sentence, a blow to free speech — is an insult to real journalists everywhere".

"This all began with the president giving his word referring to this news article," Tora Pekin, an attorney for Dundar, told The Washington Post.

"We see that the president kept his promise. His promise is hanging somewhere in that courtroom."

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