In a recent decision, the Constitutional Court declared that the imprisonment of journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül was a violation of their rights and press freedom. The journalists were released on February 26, which incidentally coincided with the birthday of President Erdoğan, who had personally filed the initial charges against the two journalists and requested their arrest. Speaking with reporters on the day of his arrest, Can Dündar noted that “I suppose the reason for the delay was so that we would be released on the 26th. We want to personally offer our release from prison as a birthday President to Mr. Erdoğan.”
Dündar also celebrated the Constitutional Court’s Decision as an important landmark for the Turkish legal system: “We believe this is a historically important decision. Freedom of expression in Turkey may start to open up more after this case. By defying the whims of the Palace, the Constitutional Court has opened the door for the media and press.”
Dündar also used his release as an opportunity to draw attention to the host of other imprisoned Turkish journalist who were not so lucky: “Our imprisonment really pales in comparison to what some others have gone through…We do not hold a grudge but we are ready to continue the opposition, we will defend rights even more loudly now. This was a press freedom case, and we got out, but thirty or so more of our colleagues are still behind bars. Until this concentration camp becomes a museum in the halls of history we will not stop defending our right to a free press.”
Despite Dündar’s optimism concerning the future of the rule of law in Turkey, President Erdoğan’s comments following the journalists’ release cast some dark shadows on future prospects. Speaking with journalists on his way to a West African diplomatic tour, the President reacted to the news of the Constitutional Court’s decision by stating; “This case had nothing to do with the freedom of expression. This was a case about espionage…We are not blind to what is going on, we have to see some of the realities. In my opinion the press cannot be unconditionally free. No country on earth has an entirely free press…Otherwise a member of the press can just attack the President and the Prime Minister as they please and we will just standby and watch it as it happens.”
The President continued; “This is absolutely out of the question. Okay, the Constitutional Court may have reached this decision. I am silent on the decision of the Constitutional Court and I do am not in a position to accept the decision at this point. I do not abide by their decision and I do not respect it. Let’s also remember that this decision was not an exoneration of guilt, it was a decision to release them.”
While Dündar may be correct in pointing out the Constitutional Court’s decision is a hopeful sign for Turkish democracy, the assault on journalists and press freedom in Turkey is far from over. Just a day after the release of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, another famous Turkish columnist Cengiz Çandar was indicted and faces up to four years in prison for “insulting the Turkish President.” For his part though, Can Dündar seems unscathed by the President’s threats of further action. After his release, he even wrote a defiant “Thank You” letter addressed to President Erdoğan. Thankfully, in the letter it appears as though Can Dündar does not intend by any means to give in to intimidation or threats, and continues to demonstrate that “not every newspaper will be drowned in the government’s pool media.” Here is the full letter:
Dear Mr. President,
The whole world knows that our 3 month imprisonment was a result of your personal vendetta against us and the fact that the judges did your bidding. However, for a few reasons I believe I should thank you for my imprisonment. Imprisonment was one of the few professional experiences missing from my resume. Thanks to you, I’ve achieved this also. With the comfort of knowing my phone wasn’t being tapped in prison, I had the opportunity to read a number books I had been meaning to read for a while, I was able to write prolifically, even more than before (in fact, without the threat of imprisonment, I was able to write much more comfortably) and whereas outside of prison I wasn’t able to exercise much, while in prison I was able expend all of my pent up energy. I met new people and heard their stories. I gathered as much material as any writer could ever wish for. I had the privilege of meeting and hosting the largest number of lawyer and politician friends in my life. I have you to thank for all of this…
You gave me the opportunity to spend New Year’s Eve in prison, which allowed me to truly appreciate how valuable it was to spend my previous holidays with my loved ones. By throwing us in prison, you inadvertently protected us from the growing atmosphere of civil war in our country, from the swine flu, from pollution, from a cold and snowy winter. What is ordinarily the lot of those who have passed away, you gave us the rare gift of realizing just how loved we are and how many people support us. Thanks to you, despite not having written a book last year, I was chosen as the “Writer of the Year,” even surpassing Orhan Pamuk. You gave me so much, bless your heart. You gave us hope that every Newspaper will not drown in the government’s pool media, that everyone will not be devoured as your prey. We truly offer our most humble and sincere thanks.
In reality, our 3 month imprisonment was nothing compared to the thousands of others who have been in prison for years charged with the crime of insult; but through our imprisonment you gifted with a platform to be able to give voice to their stories and raise awareness of their situation, and for this we sincerely thank you again. And you know the whole ordeal with the MIT trucks carrying weapons to ISIS, that we reported as news but you distorted as “revealing government secrets”? Well because we were imprisoned for reporting on it, the whole ordeal was discussed from Japan to Canada, from Oceania to Indonesia, everyone heard about it; for this contribution too we thank you greatly. God bless your ingenuity.
But is that all? We were also able to raise awareness of the increasing authoritarianism, the lawlessness and the threat of war in Turkey from your dungeons; what other great power could have given me the opportunity to write for the Guardian, Der Spiegel, the Washington Post, and Le Monde within the same month, to inspire the American Vice President to request a visit with my family? What else, other than your uncontrollable power could have given me this rare opportunity?
Thanks to you and your hitman, we were able to inspire a much needed sense of solidarity among professional journalists and colleagues, on both a national and international scale. We were able to inspire thousands of people to join a “Hope Watch” campaign. After our release we finally got to experience a wonderful sense of victory, to gather together as men and women and sing songs together, all thanks to you, bless your heart. And as for the Constitutional Court’s decision to release us as if to say “That’s enough, don’t forget we are here too”; well, we have your authoritarian tendencies to thank for this oversight of the judicial system, which you are apt to ignore. You’ll have to forgive me but, my household debts were also collecting during my imprisonment, and with the hopes that my compensation sum for wrongful imprisonment will help cover those costs, I humbly hope that you will accept my heartfelt thanks for all that you have done for us.
With our Most Sincere Concerns,