“We came here to defend journalism. We came here to defend the right of the public to obtain the news and their right to know if their government is feeding them lies. We came here to show and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activity and defend this.”
In the latest attack against media freedom in Turkey, veteran journalists Can Dündar- Editor-in-Chief for Cumhuriyet and his colleague, Erdem Gül, have been arrested for “political and military espionage”, “releasing secret documents” and “propaganda for terror organization.”
These extremely spurious and worrying allegations come straight from the presidency, as Erdogan himself filed the criminal complaint leading to the charges. President Erdogan filed the charges after the release of footage by Cumhuriyet on May 29, 2015 reportedly showing MIT trucks transporting weapons and ammunition to Syria. Erdogan has requested a life-sentence for Dündar.
The senior gendarmerie commanders involved in searching the trucks have also been arrested as of Monday, facing similar charges as well as those for “spying”. Former Adana Gendarmerie Regional Commander Brigadier General Hamza Celepoglu is additionally charged with “founding or directing an armed terrorist organization and attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or prevent it from doing its duties.”
Ankara Gendarmerie Regional Commander Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Aydin and Ret. Col. Burhanettin Cihangiroglu on the other hand have reportedly been charged with “getting information that must be kept secret in the interest of national security … serving the interests of a foreign country with the intention of spying on political and military affairs,” and “founding or directing an armed terrorist organization and attempting to overthrow the government of the Republic of Turkey or prevent it from doing its duties.”
Erdogan told state broadcaster TRT that Cumhuriyet’s story “included some footage and information that are not factual” adding that “the person who wrote the story will pay a heavy price.”
The AKPs Interior Minister Efkan Ala’s stated that these trucks contained humanitarian aid which would be delivered to Syrian Turkmens, however the footage and stills released by Cumhuriyet reportedly show this to be false.
According to the report, the trucks were found to be carrying 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells.
Today’s Zaman, a pro-Gülen newspaper, reported Erdogan asking a group of teachers on Tuesday, “You know of the treason regarding the MIT trucks, don’t you? So what if there were weapons in them? I believe that our people will not forgive those who sabotaged this support.”
Despite such tacit acceptance of these accusations by the government, Cumhuriyet’s reporting on this issue has been dangerously labelled as ‘spying’ and ‘treason’ according to Dündar, who took care to stress that this is simply journalism.
Dündar emotively told press waiting outside the courthouse that: “We came here to defend journalism. We came here to defend the right of the public to obtain the news and their right to know if their government is feeding them lies. We came here to show and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activity and defend this.”
Dündar’s arrest comes as the latest development in a string of attacks against organizations and individuals purportedly affiliated with Fethullah Gülen, all of whom have been grouped under the term FETÖ, referring to Fethullahist Terrorist Organization.
The most notable attack of late amounted to nothing short of a coup staged against Koza-Ipek Media Group which resulted in a swift and total transformation of the critical agenda of Bugün TV, Kanaltürk TV and other Koza-Ipek outlets.
Aydin Ünal, the AKPs Ankara deputy and advisor to the president publicly announced that the government would go after other media groups such as Hürriyet, Cumhuriyet, Sözcü and Zaman following the election. Given Dündar and Gül’s recent and worrisome arrests, as well as the ongoing trial against Today’s Zaman Editor-in-Chief Bülent Kenes for insulting the President, they clearly meant it.
International organizations such as the OSCE, press associations and opposition deputies have vocally criticised this move. “If not those who committed crimes, but those who report the crime, are being arrested, then nobody should say, ‘The press is free and the judiciary is independent and impartial in Turkey,” CHP leader Kemal Kiliçdaroglu said on his Twitter account.
HDP co-chairs Demirtas and Yüksekdag released a statement condemning the attacks in the strongest possible terms, stating that “Freedom of expression, people’s right to be informed and freedom of the press in Turkey are trampled on and violated every day. There are no universal and democratic criteria. The judicial mechanism is acting under the control of the ruling party and the Palace. President Erdogan has ordered the arrests as a punishment for writing the report.”
These arrests represent a brazen attack on media freedom in Turkey and set yet another concerning precedent for the government’s take-over of oppositional news sources and brutal suppression of individual journalists, a black day for Turkish democracy.
Supporters of Dündar and Gül apparently chanted: “Free press cannot be silenced” following the court’s decision to arrest the pair.