Turkey sentences exiled journalist Can Dundar to 27 years in jail

Dundar was convicted in absentia of espionage and aiding an armed organisation, prompting criticism from Germany.

Editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet Can Dundar reacts after being released from prison outside the Silivri prison complex near Istanbul
Dundar's lawyers refused to attend the final hearing [File: Can Erok/Cumhuriyet Daily/Reuters]

Turkish journalist Can Dundar has been sentenced in absentia to 27 years and six months in prison for espionage and aiding an armed organisation, according to his lawyers.

Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, and a colleague, Erdem Gul, were both sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for publishing a video purporting to show Turkish intelligence trucking weapons into Syria. They were later released pending appeal.

Now a resident of Germany, he had faced up to 35 years in jail for allegedly supporting “terrorism” and military or political espionage.

Dundar’s lawyers refused to attend the final hearing on Wednesday.

“We do not want to be part of a practice to legitimise a previously decided, political verdict,” they said in a written statement before the hearing.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticised the ruling as a “hard blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey”, which he called a fundamental right.

“Journalism is not a crime but an indispensable service to society – even and especially when it looks critically and investigatively on the fingers of those in power,” Maas told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, said on Twitter Dundar’s sentence does not violate freedom of expression.

Writing in German, he said Turkey expects its partners to accept the court’s decision and extradite him.

For critics of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Dundar has become a symbol of what they say is Turkey’s sweeping crackdown on press freedom, especially since a failed coup in 2016.

The government says the courts are independent and that it is responding to threats facing the country.

The court earlier this month delayed its verdict after Dundar’s lawyers asked for the judges to be replaced to ensure a fair trial, a request that was rejected.

An Istanbul court had declared Dundar a fugitive and seized all his assets in Turkey.

Source: News Agencies