Turkey, two opposition journalists sentenced to five years in jail (and three bullets)

Two journalists reported that the Turkish secret service shipped illegal arms to Syria. They have been sentenced to five years in jail, after a gunman tried to kill one of them outside the courthouse.

Can Dundar and Erdem Gul, journalists of the opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper, have been sentenced to five years and ten months and five years in jail respectively by Istanbul courthouse on 6 May. They have been charged with revealing – in two articles – the existence of arms trafficking managed by Ankara’s state intelligence agency. The smuggling included bombs and ammunitions collected and shipped to Syria, to help rebels.

The first apprehension on 26 November 2015

The two journalists were arrested on 26 November 2015, a fact that was heavily criticised by the international community. Then, on 26 February, the Constitutional Court of Turkey established that their imprisonment was illegitimate: the judges were obliged to release them from jail (but they had had their passports seized). Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he “doesn’t respect” this decision.


A few days ago, the sentence was pronounced after a new private hearing. But there’s more: in the afternoon the court ordered a break of a few minutes. So, Dundar and Gul went out of the courthouse and joined a group of journalists waiting to talk to the indicted who were the only source of information in a private trial.


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Can Dundar a few moments after the assassination attempt outside Istanbul courthouse © Can Erok/Cumhuriyet Newspaper via Getty Images

Three bullets fired at Dundar

It was in that moment that a gunman appeared from nowhere and shouted “traitor” at Dundar pointing a gun against him. He fired three bullets that fortunately only grazed the reporter. Another bullet hit Yagiz Senkal, a journalist at NTV, in a leg.


“I don’t know who the attacker is but I know who encouraged him and made me a target”, Dundar said. The attacker was obstructed by Dundar’s lawyer and wife and was successively identified: according to the Dogan news agency the attacker is 40-year-old Murat Sahin from the city of Sivas, in north eastern Cappadocia, a conservative area.

Erdogan sought sentence for “terrorism”

Few minutes after the attack, the sentence was pronounced. Erdogan and the National Intelligence Organisation brought a civil action in the trial and their lawyers insisted that the reporters were charged with revealing state secrets for espionage purposes and aiding terrorist attacks. But the court only issued the indictment of “revealing state secrets”.


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Turkish President Erdogan wanted two journalists of the newspaper Cumhuriyet to be convicted of terrorist actions © Gokhan Tan/Getty Images


The President of Turkey had already demonstrated that he doesn’t like opposition journalists in the country. In October, a few days before the legislative elections, Turkish authorities attacked and censored two TV channels that had criticised the President.


Nevertheless, the European Union still considers Erdogan as a reliable person, so much so that it asked the country to “select” Syrian migrants entering Europe. This choice outraged humanitarian organisations all over the world.


Featured image: © Can Erok/Cumhuriyet Newspaper via Getty Images

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