A Turkish judge has opted to adjourn the trial of two convicted journalists: Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, until April 1, 2016, in response to the opposition of lawmakers who are refusing to vacate the courthouse. Dundar and Gul are facing charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist organization. They could both spend thirty years behind bars if found guilty.
Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, and Gul, Dundar’s Ankara bureau chief, released a report in May of 2015. The report alleged that the Turkish government had attempted to ship arms to Islamists groups fighting in the Syrian civil war. The newspaper cited the arms shipment as proof that Turkey was smuggling arms into Syria.
The report enraged Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said that Dundar and Gul, “would pay a heavy price.” Erdogan filed a criminal complaint against them. The court has accepted Erdogan and the Turkish intelligence agency, MIT, as sub-plaintiffs in the case.
Erdogan acknowledged that the trucks belonged to the intelligence agency. However, he claims that the trucks were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria fighting President Bashar al-Assad and the Islamic State.
Dundar and Gul were arrested in November 2015, and held in pretrial detention for three months (they were subsequently released from detention after Turkey’s Constitutional Court ruled that their rights had been violated).
In a move that sparked widespread condemnation from human rights groups, a judge of the lower criminal court, ordered the trial to be held behind closed doors, citing the prosecutor’s concerns for security. Lawyers and several civil rights groups argued that the evidence could potentially be read in a closed hearing, but that the rest of the trial should remain open to the public.
Akin Atalay, one of the lawyers for Dundar and Gul, proclaimed that “the judge’s decision to hold the entire trial behind closed doors is illegal and has no basis in law… But nothing surprises us anymore in this country, where regular justice does not seem to apply.”
Emma Sinclair-Webb, a researcher for the Human Rights Group, observed the hearing. She called the decision to conduct the case behind closed doors a “travesty of justice.”
Dundar released a statement just before the trial, saying that the government was attempting to intimidate journalists.
“There is an effort to arrest an entire profession and the public – what foreigners call a ‘chilling effect’…. What is trying to be created is a mechanism of self-censorship and an increasing empire of fear,” Dundar said.
In response to the trial, dozens of prominent writers published an open letter on Thursday, March 24, 2016, to Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The letter urged the government to drop all charges against Dundar and Gul. They said, “we believe that Can Dundar and Erdem Gul are facing life in prison simply for carrying out their legitimate work as journalists.” They expressed worry over an “increasing climate of fear and censorship and the stifling of critical voices in Turkey.”
Turkey, currently ranks 149 among the 180 countries, in the Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index 2015. Media organizations claim that more than 30 journalists are behind bars in Turkey. The Turkish government’s view of their record on press freedom?
The Turkish government argues that journalism in Turkey is among the freest in the world.
By Casey Lowrey
BBC: Turkish Cumhuriyet journalists trial adjourned
Aljazeera: Turkish journalists’ trial adjourned
VOA: Trial Adjourned for Turkish Journalists Targeted by Erdogan
Top Image Courtesy of YamezA’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Featured Image Courtesy of Charles Montmasson’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License