New Cold War.org, Nov 28, 2015
Two leading editors and journalists in Turkey were arrested on November 26 for a story they published last May revealing a covert, arms-running operation to Syria by Turkey’s national intelligence agency. They are facing serious criminal charges of treason and spying.
Protests erupted immediately against the arrests, drawing thousands of people, led by journalists, to rallies at the courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, and in the streets of Istanbul and Ankara, the capital city.
Enclosed are three news reports on this story.
Thirty three journalists are currently in detention in Turkey, according to the editor-in-chief of Today’s Zaman. The BBC reported in June of this year that since his election to the presidency of Turkey in August 2014, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had taken libel action against more than 100 people for “insulting the head of state“.
Two journalists arrested for story on intelligence trucks bound for Syria
ISTANBUL–Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and the daily’s Ankara bureau chief, Erdem Gül, were arrested in Istanbul on Nov 26 due to stories published about Turkish intelligence trucks bound for Syria in early 2014.
“We are accused of ‘spying.’ The president said [our action is] ‘treason.’ We are not traitors, spy, or heroes; we are journalists. What we have done here was an act of journalism,” Dündar said before testifying to prosecutors on Nov. 26 in a case that has been denounced by many as an attack against free press.
“Of course, this prosecution will help enlighten how these incidents took place, rather than how we covered this story,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor Office has said the arrest had no connection to press freedom and no rights were violated, in a statement released in response to criticism about the arrest.
It was Dündar himself who announced the decision. “It is an arrest,” he said late on the night of Nov. 26 to those waiting in the court’s corridors, before he said goodbye to his wife, coincidentally on their wedding anniversary, and friends. “Nothing to feel sorry about; these are medals of honor for us,” he said.
In his testimony, Dündar compared the case to the U.S. Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, in which journalism played a distinctive role. He added that he believed they had “saved the state from an important mistake” by reporting the story.
“A journalist should report that story if he or she sees the country is in danger,” Gül said before he was arrested. “My task is to reveal if something is hidden from the people and share it,” he said in his testimony.
His 80-year-old mother, Fatma Gül, who was also there to hear the verdict, could not help her tears. “I raised my son with honor. I raised him collecting tea and hazelnuts in the fields,” she said.
Dündar and Gül were arrested on charges of collecting and revealing secret documents for espionage and supporting an armed terrorist organization (but not being a member) as the accusations were based on reports in Cumhuriyet regarding Syria-bound trucks sent by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT). Dündar had the byline on the trucks story while Gül wrote a similar story on the issue.
The armed organization mentioned by the prosecutors refers to Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), a term used by prosecutors to define the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic scholar, who have allegedly created a parallel structure, according to the government.
Footage released by Cumhuriyet on May 29, 2015 showed gendarmerie and police officers opening crates in the backs of trucks containing what the daily described as weapons and ammunition sent to Syria by the MİT in January 2014.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed an individual criminal complaint against Dündar and Cumhuriyet on June 2, claiming that the story “included some footage and information that are not factual” while saying the person “who wrote the story will pay a heavy price.”
The criminal complaint, which was filed to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office to be sent to Istanbul where Cumhuriyet is based, argued that the newspaper “participated in the actions” of Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan’s erstwhile ally, whose followers are accused of infiltrating the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy.
“By publishing fabricated footage and information that were leaked to him by the parallel organization, [Dündar] participated in the actions of the organization’s members who searched the trucks and plotted with fabricated evidence to create a perception…that the Republic of Turkey [was] helping terrorist organizations,” the complaint said.
The plaintiff accused Dündar of both “trying to manipulate justice” with fabricated material and “violating confidentiality” by publishing the story. Erdoğan’s lawyer, Muammer Cemaloğlu, also requested the prosecutor launch a public lawsuit following the investigation.
Erdoğan said on Nov. 24 that whether or not the trucks carried weapons was irrelevant. “What difference would it make whether the trucks contained weapons or not?” he asked, adding that the publishing of the story was a “betrayal”.
Erdoğan claimed the trucks were set to deliver humanitarian aid to Bayırbucak Turkmens and that the journalists were complicit in “sabotaging” this aid merely to harm his image and the image of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.
Cumhuriyet daily’s Dündar, Gül arrested over report on Syria arms transfer
By Zeynep Karatas, Today’s Zaman, Nov 26, 2015
The editor-in-chief of the Cumhuriyet daily, Can Dündar, and the paper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gül have been arrested on charges of being members of a terror organization, espionage and revealing confidential documents — charges that could see them spend life in prison.
ISTANBUL–“We have been arrested!” Dündar tweeted after the 7th Penal Court of Peace ruled to arrest the two men pending trial, complying with prosecutor İrfan Fidan’s request. Dündar and Gül were taken to the Silivri Prison after the court’s decision.
“Don’t worry, these are medals of honor for us,” Dündar was also quoted as saying by Cumhuriyet‘s website.
Dündar and Gül’s supporters chanted: “Free press cannot be silenced” inside the courtroom after the court announced its decision, video footage of the Doğan news agency showed. The leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, said the decision marked a “black day” for democracy and freedoms.
CHP İstanbul deputy Mahmut Tanal said the arrests mark a “coup” staged against the press. “It is the massacre of the law to launch an investigation and now rule for the arrest of the two journalists with special orders,” Tanal said, referring to the government’s role in the prosecution of the journalists.
Opposition People’s Democratic Party (HDP) also condemned the arrests in a joint statement by its co-leaders, who said the ruling once again revealed that judicial mechanisms are under the influence of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government.
If tried and found guilty on the charges, the sentence for being a member of a terrorist organization can reach a maximum of 10 years, while that for espionage can be up to 20 years. Revealing confidential government documents carries the highest punishment of all the charges — life imprisonment. Both delivered their defense and a court decision is expected soon.
The Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) immediately condemned the court decision as a severe blow to freedom of press in Turkey. “Is there still anyone who would say Turkey media freedom?” it asked on its Twitter account.
The International Press Institute (IPI) said “journalism was arrested,” after the court’s decision. IPI’s Turkish National ComMİTtee said in a press statement on Thursday that it is the job of journalists to obtain and publish documents that would serve the public interest. “As journalists, we stand in solidarity with Dündar and Gül, who just performed journalism,” the statement said.
Stating that Turkey, which uses charges such as terrorism, membership in a criminal network and espionage while prosecuting journalists, witnessed yet another black day with respect to democracy and press freedom, the statement called on Turkish authorities to immediately carry out reforms that would secure press freedom in the country.
Dündar and Gül arrived at İstanbul Courthouse on Thursday morning to testify as part of a terrorism investigation. The investigation was launched after Cumhuriyet published photos in May of weapons which it said were transferred to Syria in trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MİT).
“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 told the press outside the courthouse.
The articles, published on the daily’s front page, reported that the trucks in question were intercepted by gendarmes on two occasions in January 2014 after prosecutors received tip-offs that they were illegally carrying arms to Syria. There have been allegations that the arms were going to extremist groups fighting against the Syrian regime. Ankara, 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.”
Dündar continued, “First the government responded saying: ‘No there is nothing of the sort. This is aid. Then it was revealed that these were guns. Then they said that these were going to the Turkmens. Then the present deputy prime minister, Tuğrul Türkeş said, ‘I swear to God they [the trucks] were not going to the Turkmens.’ … Then later the Turkmens said they did not receive any arms.”
“The president is acting as if this is a personal lawsuit, saying I will be following this, and I will not let it go. He, personally, is the complainant. I do not know why the president alone is the complainant. This secret is a secret that belongs to the state, it is not a secret that belongs to him personally.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan personally sued Dündar and is requesting that he be given a life sentence, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term in prison on charges related to a variety of crimes, ranging from espionage to attempting to topple the government and exposing secret information.
For the coverage of the MİT trucks, President Erdoğan has publicly targeted Dündar, saying: “The individual who has reported this as an exclusive story will pay a heavy price for this,” in a television interview with state broadcaster TRT late in June.
“We are being charged with being spies, the president is saying that we are traitors to the state. We are not spies, we are not traitors, we are not heroes; we are journalists,” Dündar added outside the courthouse.
“There is a crime that has been committed by the state that they are trying to cover up,” he said, adding that the state is understandably in panic over the reporting done by the paper for it has the potential to reach an international audience and show the world the crimes committed by the Turkish state.
Following the Cumhuriyet report, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said it is “none of anybody’s business” what the trucks contained. Speaking in a live broadcast on the Habertürk news station in May, Davutoğlu said, “This is a blatant act of espionage.”
After the publication of video stills as well as video footage, Erdoğan lashed out at Cumhuriyet and Dündar for publishing the evidence and publicly vowed that Dündar would “pay a heavy price” for his report.
According to the report, the trucks were carrying six steel containers which contained a total of 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells. All of this is registered in the prosecutor’s file on the MİT truck case, the report said.
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 gendarmes.
Earlier this month, Cumhuriyet was awarded the prestigious Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize for its contribution to defending press freedom.
Following their arrests, there has been an outpouring of support for the veteran journalists from their colleagues and politicians. Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu, Mahmut Tanal, Barış Yarkadaş, Onursal Adıgüzel, Ali Şeker and Gürsel Tekin were among the many CHP representatives that came to the courthouse to show their solidarity; People’s Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Garo Paylan was also present. Journalist Hasan Cemal, writer Pelin Batu and Confederation of Revolutionary Workers’ Unions (DİSK) Secretary-General Arzu Çerkezoğlu also came to the courthouse to stand by Dündar and Erdem.
The hashtag #CanDündarErdemGülYalnızDeğildir (CanDündarErdemGülarenotalone) began trending on Twitter after the two were referred for arrest.
The Turkish Journalists’ Association (TGC) and Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) also gave a written statement saying that the Cumhuriyet daily performed its duty of informing the public and that it is not the job of journalists to protect the government.
Past month sees unprecedented pressure on media in Turkey
The arrests of Dündar and Gül come on the heels of increasing pressure on the free media in Turkey. In the past month alone, a total of 15 TV channels were either seized or banned by Turkish authorities.
A total of 13 TV and radio stations from the Samanyolu Broascasting Group, including Samanyolu TV, Mehtap TV, S Haber and Radio Cihan, that are critical of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) were removed from state-owned Turkish Satellite Communications Company (Türksat) on Nov. 14.
In late October, police raided the headquarters of a number of media outlets early after the Ankara 5th Criminal Court of Peace ruled for the takeover of the administration of Koza İpek Holding’s companies, which includes critical media outlets in the İpek Media Group, in a government-backed move. The trustees then took over the management of the Bugün and Millet dailies, as well as Bugün TV and Kanaltürk following the police intervention, during which many journalists and protesters were subjected to excessive police force.
Nearly 1,000 journalists were fired in the past month after these moves while 6 others were arrested in government-backed probes.
Thousands protest arrest of two Turkish journalists on spying charges
By Ceylan Yeginsu, New York Times, Friday, Nov 27, 2015
ISTANBUL — Thousands gathered across Istanbul on Friday, November 27 to protest the arrest of two prominent journalists on charges of espionage over a report alleging that the country’s intelligence services had sent arms shipments to Islamist rebels in Syria.
A court in Istanbul on Thursday ordered the arrest of Can Dundar, the editor in chief of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, and of Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, on charges of divulging state secrets and being members of an armed terrorist organization. If found guilty, they would face life imprisonment.
Demonstrations against the arrests were held in several parts of Istanbul, with the main rally held outside the newspaper’s headquarters Friday, where protesters chanted “shoulder to shoulder against fascism” and held up banners that that denounced a “black day for the press.”
The arrests came after a wave of crackdowns on opposition news media in Turkey that gained momentum after the Justice and Development Party regained its parliamentary majority in elections this month. The result allowed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to further secure his grip on power.
Mr. Erdogan personally filed the criminal complaint against Cumhuriyet in June after he delivered a speech accusing the newspaper of engaging in acts of espionage, vowing that the author would “pay a heavy price.”
Mr. Dundar and Mr. Gul are also accused of being members of an organization linked to the Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, who has been living in Pennsylvania since 1999 and whom Mr. Erdogan accuses of trying to topple the government.
Cumhuriyet published an article in May that was accompanied by video showing local authorities seizing crates on the back of a truck. The report said the crates contained weapons linked to the National Intelligence Organization, the Turkish security service–in Turkish: Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı (MİT)–that were bound for Islamist rebels in Syria.
The report emerged at a delicate time, coming a week before the crucial parliamentary election that was seen as a referendum on Mr. Erdogan and his plans to alter the Turkish Constitution to concentrate more powers in an executive presidency.
At the time, Turkey was facing increased criticism for aiding Islamist militants in Syria — an allegation the government denies. Turkish officials insisted that the footage published by Cumhuriyet showed humanitarian aid that was bound for the Turkmen population in Syria, which has strong ethnic ties with Turkey. But recently, Mr. Erdogan has backtracked somewhat, asking what difference it would make if the truck had been carrying weapons instead of aid.
Before testifying to prosecutors on Thursday, Mr. Dundar rejected the charges against him, saying that his newspaper and its staff members were merely doing their jobs as journalists. “We are not traitors, spies or heroes; we are journalists,” Mr. Dundar said.
The court ruling came just weeks after the European Union delivered a scathing report about Turkey’s attempts to join the bloc, criticizing Mr. Erdogan for “serious backsliding” on press freedom. In recent months, opposition news outlets have been shut down; criminal charges have been brought against journalists for insulting the president; and publications have been raided and their content seized.
Mohammed Rasool, a freelance journalist for Vice News who has been accused of assisting a terrorist organization, has been in pretrial detention in a maximum-security prison since August as the Turkish authorities decide whether to press charges.
Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries on the Reporters Without Borders news media freedom index. On Tuesday, the organization awarded Cumhuriyet its 2015 Press Freedom Prize for courageous journalism.
Before the court hearing on Thursday, the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, Christophe Deloire, said in a statement, “If these two journalists are imprisoned, it will be additional evidence that the Turkish authorities are ready to use methods worthy of a bygone age in order to suppress independent journalism in Turkey.”
Note by New Cold War.org:
 In the June 7, 2015 legislative election in Turkey, the AKP party of President Erdogan failed to win the majority of seats it was seeking that would help it to pass constitutional changes. Those require a 60 per cent vote in the legislature. The legislature elected in June was left to languish and Erdogan called another election for November 1. There, his party won its legislative majority with 49.5 per cent of the vote. The left-wing HDP party kept its representation in the legislature by winning more than the ten per cent minimum threshold. The seat results in the Nov 1, 2015 election were: AKP (317, 58%), CHP (134, 25%), HDP (59, 11%), MHP (40, 12%).