Journalist arrests condemned by international press organizations, EU, US

“It is yet another black day for democracy and press freedom in Turkey, where allegations such as terrorism, and being a member of a terrorist organization are used at trials of journalists,” the Turkish branch of the International Press Institute (IPI) said in a statement shortly after the arrests.

The editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, Can Dundar, and the paper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gul were arrested by the court on Thursday night.

Both Dundar and Gul are being accused of “deliberately and willfully aiding a [terrorist] organization without being a member of it, military and political espionage and revealing confidential documents.

The US embassy in Ankara has expressed concern on Twitter about the arrest, saying it makes one think that yet another press outlet in Turkey has come under pressure. The embassy’s Twitter message on Friday read, “We hope the Turkish courts & authorities will uphold the fundamental principle of media freedom enshrined in the Turkish Constitution.”

The IPI statement defended the daily’s report about Syria-bound trucks which turned out to be operated by Turkey’s intelligence organization, saying, “It is the very duty of journalists to obtain and publish documents whose revelation serves public interest.”

An investigation was launched after Cumhuriyet published photos in May of the arms which it said the Syria-bound trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT) contained. Dundar and Gul were taken to the Silivri Prison in İstanbul after the 7th Penal Court of Peace ruled to arrest the two men pending trial.

On Friday, the International and European Federations of Journalists (IFJ and EFJ) urged Turkey to immediately release the two journalists. Noting that Dundar was the keynote speaker during IFS’s international conference in İstanbul, IFJ President Jim Boumelha said, “We demand the Turkish authorities immediately release Can Dundar and Erdem Gul and drop all charges against them.” EFJ President Mogens Blicher Bjerregard drew attention to the illegal nature of the arrest saying, “These arrests will certainly be challenged in regard to Articles 5 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Arguing that the court verdict also raises questions about the independence of the judiciary in Turkey, Bjerregard added, “In the wake of the EU-Turkey summit in Brussels, Turkish authorities should correct the situation by immediately releasing our colleagues.”

The IFJ and EFJ will report this case to the Council of Europe’s platform for the protection and safety of journalists and to the Mapping Media Freedom platform supported by the European Commission.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) described the arrests as unacceptable. “Journalists facing life in prison for their reporting deemed dangerous by the authorities is unacceptable,” Dunja Mijatović, OSCE media freedom representative said.

Underlining that the arrests further degrade press freedom in Turkey, Mijatović added, “I urge the Turkish authorities not to proceed with the charges and release the journalists.”

The arrests have been criticized as yet another instance of systematic intimidation of the free press in Turkey by the Greens in the European Parliament (EP).

Rebecca Harms, president of the Greens in the EP said, “The new Turkish government needs to stop ceaseless targeted intimidations and return to democratic rules. European states are co-responsible for the developments in Turkey. Those who intend to constructively stimulate the EU-Turkey negotiations have to clearly oppose the violation of fundamental rights.”

The trucks in question were intercepted by the gendarmerie on two occasions in January 2014 after prosecutors received tip-offs that they were illegally carrying arms to Syria.

The two journalists may be sentenced to life sentences.

There have been allegations that the arms were going to extremist groups fighting against the Syrian regime. The Turkish government, on the other hand, insisted that the trucks were carrying aid to Syrian Turkmens and branded their interception as an act of “treason” and “espionage.”

Noting that it is for politicians and not for journalists to act in line with political interests, the IPI statement said the press institution is on the side of Dundar and Gul for the MİT truck reporting.

The photos, published on the daily’s front page in late May, show steel containers filled with mortar shells and ammunition underneath boxes of medicine. The daily also published a video showing the containers on trucks being opened and searched by the gendarmerie.

The Cumhuriyet report said the trucks’ cargo included 1,000 artillery shells, 1,000 mortar shells, 50,000 machine gun bullets and 30,000 heavy artillery bullets.

EU says arrests ‘worrying’

Turkish media quoted European Commission foreign affairs spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic as saying on Friday, “We are of course following these worrying developments very closely.”

Underlying that freedom of expression is one of the fundamental principles for the EU, Kocijancic reportedly added in a press briefing, “We have raised these concerns repeatedly with the Turkish authorities.”

Ingebjorg Godskesen and Natasa Vuckovic, co-rapporteurs for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey, have also questioned the arrests of journalists Dundar and Gul, as well as the eight-year sentence facing Bulent Kenes, editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman, for “insulting the President.”

“These are yet more additional, regressive moves which will have a chilling effect on journalists, in a context already marked by continuous and worrying restrictions on freedom of the media,” they said.

“In a democracy, journalists should be able to report in an environment free from intimidation or prosecution. We urge the Turkish authorities to guarantee freedom of the press, which is a cornerstone of democracy.”

“We also call on them to align Turkish law with Council of Europe standards and to ensure that the law is applied in line with the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights.”


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