By Independent Turkey
A would-be assailant attempted to shoot journalist Can Dündar today as he left the courthouse during a recess. The shots missed and police were quick to capture the man; Dündar was later seen walking back into the courthouse looking relieved and resolute according to Independent Turkey’s reporter.
The would-be-assailant, reportedly Murat Şahin, yelled “traitor to the motherland” as he attempted to shoot Dündar. Dündar was leaving the fourth hearing of his trial at Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse when attacked, but was unharmed according to our reporter as shooter was held back by Dündar’s wife Dilek. Yağız Şenkal of NTV was reported to have been injured in the shooting however.
The shots was witnessed by press and Dündar supporters who were gathered outside the courtroom awaiting today’s verdict, however police later dispersed the crowd.
The pair were subsequently convicted of revealing state secrets and face over 5 years imprisonment. A remarkable reduction in their sentence given the original charges of espionage, treason and aiding a terrorist organization, indicating reservations over the validity of these charges in the judiciary.
Dündar and Gül, editor-in-chief and Ankara bureau chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper, face prosecution for leaking state secrets after publishing images and footage of National Intelligence Agency (MIT) trucks allegedly transporting weapons into Syria.
The two journalists were held without trial for 92 days after their arrest in November last year. Their detention sparked local and international outrage, and was one the reasons Turkey topped the European Court of Human Right’s 2015 List of Freedom of Expression Violations.
The original charges included “espionage” but these were dropped after public prosecutor Evliya Çalışkan ruled last week that requirements for espionage charges had not been met.
The prosecutor had originally sought 35-year sentences for each journalist, including up to 23 hours per day in solitary confinement. After the espionage charges were dropped however, Dündar’s proposed sentence fell to 25 years for “being complicit in acquiring and revealing information that should remain secret, either for the security of the state or for the domestic or international benefit of the state.” Çalışkan also sought 10 years for Gül on charges of releasing secret information.
The charges are based on a May 2015 story in which Cumhuriyet published photographs of MIT trucks transporting weapons across the border into Syria. The trucks were stopped by the gendarmerie but after a brief stand-off and the intervention of state officials they were granted passage.
The incident fuelled allegations that the Turkish state had been illicitly sending arms to rebel groups in Syria. The government denied the charges at first, before admitting that they had “helped” certain Turkmen groups fighting Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria.
“I knew the story was big at the time, and was fully prepared for its repercussions, but I never imagined I’d be accused of espionage,” Dündar told Independent Turkey before the start of the trial in March. “They were caught trafficking arms into Syria without the knowledge of the Turkish parliament and public. This is an international war crime.”
The story sparked an immediate reaction from state President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who said: “He will pay a heavy price for this. I won’t let him go unpunished.” The president believes Dündar and Gül to have acted in concert with a “parallel state,” aiming at undermining the government’s reputation and lowering Turkey’s standing in the world.
The original indictment accuses Dündar and Gül was of collaborating with the alleged Gülenist terror network FETÖ, supposedly run by self-exiled religious leader Fetullah Gülen, “to create the perception in Turkey and in the world that Turkey was helping terrorist organizations to associate the government with terrorism” according to the pro-government Daily Sabah.
The two journalists’ arrest came shortly after the snap elections that cemented the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) hold on power in the Turkish parliament. A Constitutional Court ruling in February declared their pre-trial detention unlawful and the pair were released.
Attempts to combine Dündar and Gül’s case with charges against prosecutors and soldiers who searched MIT trucks was rejected at the third hearing of the secret trial, closed to public.
From the start of the trial both journalists defended their work. “We, as critical journalists, have a higher duty as we become fewer in numbers,” Dündar told Independent Turkey. “In this, we are more than just journalists nowadays, as we defend our rights and the last hope of democracy in Turkey. It is as if we are some kind of freedom fighters, and our fight has only just begun.”
“Journalism is not a crime. Today, we have to defend that. It was said in the Constitutional Court ruling that what we did was just journalism. We are here to defend the law of the Constitutional Court. We did not commit a crime and we will keep on doing journalism,” said Erdem Gül as he entered court on the first day of hearings.
With today’s shooting, these words have been reiterated by both Dündar and Gül, who have remained stoic in the face of their prosecution, and now assassination attempt.