PEN Turkey, English PEN and PEN International are seriously concerned for Can Dündar, editor-in-chief of Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, who has been accused of espionage by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan. PEN is calling for the complaint brought against him by Erdoǧan’s lawyer to be dropped.
According to reports, President Erdoğan yesterday submitted a criminal complaint via his lawyer demanding Dündar’s trial and imprisonment in relation to an article and video that were published on the Cumhuriyet website on Friday 29 May.
The video, now removed from the website following a court order, showed Turkish gendarmerie officials in the southern province of Adana discovering large quantities of ammunition on civilian trucks reportedly belonging to Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency in January 2014. The trucks were allegedly bound for the Syrian border.
Following the publication of the video, Erdoğan has been openly critical of Dündar, accusing him and the Cumhuriyet newspaper of engaging in espionage on live television.
Dündar has also been subjected to fierce attacks by the pro-government media in Turkey, who have accused him of treason, espionage and complicity in an international conspiracy against Erdoğan and Turkey.
Erdoğan’s lawyer has reportedly demanded two life sentences for Dündar in this latest criminal complaint and has accused him of: ‘forming an illegal organisation, crimes against the state, obtaining confidential information pertaining to national security, political and military espionage, unlawfully making confidential information public and attempting to influence a trial’. This is at least the fourth case that Erdoğan has attempted to bring against Dündar in the last 13 months, including an ongoing defamation case, the next hearing of which is scheduled for 17 September 2015.
Zeynep Oral, President of PEN Turkey, said: ‘We, the writers of PEN Turkey, still want to believe that this is a democratic country; that we have respect for freedom of expression. The duty of a newspaper, of a journalist, is to inform the readers and to let the public know the truth about what is happening. Can Dündar , a member of PEN Turkey, fulfilled his responsibility as the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet daily by publishing an article and photographs. The 168 writers and employees took full responsibility for this report along with their Editor in Chief. And we, the Executive Commitee of PEN Turkey, stand together with our colleague Can Dündar’.
Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN, said: ‘PEN believes that the criminal complaint levelled at Dündar is wholly illegitimate and that it is an attempt to punish him for journalistic work that falls within the public interest. The ongoing war in Syria is a topic of great importance to the Turkish public and they have every right to know whether their government has been delivering arms across the border. PEN condemns the criminal complaint against Dündar and calls on the Turkish judiciary to reject categorically these attempts to bring him to trial.’
Ann Harrison, Programme Director of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee said: ‘There is a tremendous danger in labelling writers and journalists as spies or traitors to the state. Such accusations inevitably put these high profile individuals at risk of attack from violent, extremist groups. It is important to condemn such accusations in the strongest possible terms, especially in light of Turkey’s history of journalistic assassinations and the highly polarised political climate of the day. PEN strongly urges President Erdoğan to desist from targeting writers and journalists in this way and to withdraw this and other complaints against Dündar.’
In recent days, Dündar has staunchly defended himself and his paper against Erdoğan’s attacks. On 1 June, he took to Twitter to defend the paper’s actions, stating: ‘We are journalists, not civil servants. Our duty is not to hide the dirty secrets of the state but to hold those accountable on behalf of the people.’
He has also enjoyed widespread support in the opposition media and in Turkish civil society. The following day, on 2 June, over 150 writers, journalists and Cumhurriyet employees signed a powerful statement entitled ‘I am responsible’, which was published on the front page of their newspaper. Can Dündar shared an image of the cover on Twitter, describing it as ‘the professional solidarity I’ve dreamed of all my life.’ He thanked his Cumhuriyet colleagues, adding ‘Together we cannot lose!’
I am responsible
Trucks loaded with weapons and ammunition, enough to destroy a city in case of an explosion, were sent to a warring party in the neighbouring Syria. Turkish parliament, administrative authorities and public were unaware of this undertaking. The sender, AKP government, has persistently denied the existence of the weapons and ammunition in the trucks. The military officials who revealed the shipment and the prosecutors who conducted the investigation were dismissed and arrested.
The people of this country did not know the risks they faced. They were not informed of the vital, political, legal and diplomatic consequences of this shipment.
The duty of a newspaper, of a journalist, is to inform the readers and let the public know the danger and threats.
Aware of its responsibility, Cumhuriyet published the video and photographs of the long-denied fact.
We, the undersigned writers and employees, take full responsibility for this report along with our editor-in-chief Can Dündar.
We declare that President Tayyip Erdoğan’s ‘The person who wrote the story will pay a heavy price’ sentence refers not only to Can Dündar but to us all.
We say ‘I am responsible’.