Turkey: Journalist Can Dündar faces up to four and half years in prison

Can11 February 2015

RAN 04/15

PEN International is deeply concerned by the ongoing trial of writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker Can Dündar for two articles he wrote in July 2014, in which he criticised the handling of a major investigation into alleged government corruption in Turkey and discussed the ramifications of then prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s presidential candidacy. Dündar is on trial for criminal defamation; a charge that was brought following  an official complaint by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his son Bilal Erdoğan on 7 August 2014. He faces up to four and a half years in prison if found guilty of the charges. The second hearing of his trial is set to be heard on 26 February 2015. PEN International opposes criminalisation of defamation in all cases and calls on the Turkish authorities to drop the charges and the draconian prison sentence being sought against Dündar for his legitimate expression as a journalist and political commentator.

Take Action

Send a message of support:

Please email your messages of support for Can Dündar to alev.yaman@pen-international.org and we will pass them on for you.

Please send appeals:

  • Calling on the Turkish authorities to decriminalise defamation and drop the case against Can Dündar;
  • Urging them to ensure that judges and prosecutors approach defamation cases involving politicians and senior public officials in accordance with the principles set out by the European Court of Human Rights in the case of Tuşalp v Turkey;
  • Reminding them that Turkey has the obligation to respect the right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which it is a state party.

In your letters to the President, please also:

  • Ask him to stop bringing criminal defamation cases against writers and journalists engaging in legitimate political criticism.

Appeals to:

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
Cumhurbaşkanlığı Sarayı
06560, Beştepe
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 525 58 31
Email: cumhurbaskanligi@tccb.gov.tr
Twitter: @RT_Erdogan

Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ
Milli Müdafaa Caddesi No: 22
06659, Kızılay
Ankara, Turkey
Fax: +90 312 419 33 70
Email: bekir.bozdag@tbmm.gov.tr; ozelkalem@adalet.gov.tr
Twitter: @bybekirbozdag

And copy to the Embassy of Turkey in your country. You can find embassy addresses here

***Please send appeals immediately. Check with PEN International if sending appeals after 26 February 2015.***

Please inform us of any action you take, and of any responses you receive


Can Dündar is a writer, journalist and documentary filmmaker who has become one of Turkey’s most prominent voices in a career spanning more than three decades. He is well known for his literary work as well as for a series of biographies and documentaries regarding key figures in Turkish history, including the founder of the republic Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the poet Nazım Hikmet and industrialist Vehbi Koç. His 2008 documentary on Atatürk sparked nationwide debate for its depiction of Turkey’s first president as a flawed and troubled leader. Dündar was sacked from his position as a columnist for Milliyet following a series of articles critical of the government during the Gezi Park protests. He has since worked as a columnist for Cumhuriyet and BirGün, and as the host of a current affairs program on Artı Bir TV until recently. He was featured as a case study in a 2014 PEN report on the Gezi Park protests.

Dündar is on trial for two articles he wrote in July 2014 in his column for the daily Cumhuriyet. The first of these articles, “Erdoğan’s soft underbelly”, was published on 1 July 2014, and discussed the possible ramifications of Erdoğan’s presidency. The second article, “It is our right to read the police reports”, was published on 18 July 2014, and criticised the controversial handling of a major police investigation into alleged government corruption (the investigation has since been dropped after a reshuffle of the prosecutors and police officers who initiated it). The public prosecutor is seeking a two year, four month prison sentence for defamation against President Erdoğan and a two year, two month prison sentence for defamation against his son Bilal Erdoğan. President Erdoğan has previously tried to have Dündar tried for criminal defamation, but a May 2014 complaint was rejected before even going to trial.

PEN believes that the articles in question by Dündar constitute legitimate political criticism and that the public prosecutor’s office should drop the investigation against him. Freedom of expression includes the right to offend, particularly within the context of thoughts and opinions relating to the politics of high-ranking government officials. The onus is on the Turkish courts to ensure that the prime minister’s personality rights are not unduly placed either above those of others, or above the general interest in a democratic society of promoting freedom of expression where issues of public interest and political criticism are concerned.

The UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media have stated that that ‘criminal defamation is not a justifiable restriction on freedom of expression; all criminal defamation laws should be abolished and replaced, where necessary, with appropriate civil defamation laws’.

This approach was reinforced in a European Court of Human Rights case, Tuşalp v Turkey (2012), a defamation suit brought by Erdoğan against journalist Erbil Tuşalp. The European Court highlighted the relevance of the fact that Tuşalp’s scathing criticism of the prime minister involved ‘important matters in a democratic society of which the public had a legitimate interest in being informed and which fell within the scope of political debate.’ Regarding the ‘offensiveness’ of the words used by Tuşalp, the court held that ‘the protection of Article 10 [of the European Convention on Human Rights which relates to freedom of expression] was applicable not only to information or ideas that were favourably received but also to those which offended, shocked or disturbed.’ A crucial matter for consideration was the prime minister’s public position: ‘The limits of acceptable criticism were wider for a politician than a private individual. [The prime minister] would therefore have been obliged to display a greater degree of tolerance.’