The Turkish general elections on Sunday arrive amidst a furore over President Erdogan’s attempts to silence ‘Cumhuriyet’ editor Can Dundar for publishing footage of arms being loaded onto trucks, purportedly to supply Syrian insurgents. There have long been suspicions that Erdogan’s government has been ferrying ISIL fighters into Syria.
An outraged Erdogan has insisted that the Turkish National Intelligence agency (MIT) were carrying aid to Turkmens in Syria and has called for a life sentence to be passed on Dundar.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, main opposition leader of the CHP said that, “The AK Party is not aware of the situation that Turkey will be in before the international law, courts and UN once the prosecutors and other officers testify during their trial.” He told Turkish daily ‘Zaman’ that, “This will reveal the illegal arms transfer to extremist groups in another country.”
“Erdogan and other Turkish officials are floundering on their explanations of this situation but what is at stake here is the right of the public to know what its government is doing and the press’s right to report it,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, Human Rights Watch’s researcher in Turkey.
Although he did not name Dundar, Erdogan speaking on state television channel TRT Haber this week said that the journalist behind the publication of the video would “pay a high price” for his actions.
On Tuesday, Erdogan’s lawyers filed a criminal complaint against Dundar with the Ankara prosecutor’s office. Charges included espionage and “falsifying footage and information” in an attempt to bring down the Republic of Turkey and prevent the state from carrying out its duties, Anadolu News Agency reported.
Over 400 hundred leading Turkish academics, politicians, artists and other public figures are rallying around ‘Cumhuriyet’ and Dundar and demanding the government stop its “pressures and threats” against journalists.
Dundar responded on Twitter on Monday, writing, “We are journalists. Our mission is not to store the dirty secrets of the state.”
Erdogan’s call for a life sentence for Dundar is proof that his war against the media is escalating, human rights activists and media analysts say.
“Erdogan has embarked on a destructive campaign against mainstream critical media for a long time now but his criminal complaint against Dundar carries the heaviest sentence for an individual journalist,” said Mustafa Edib Yilmaz, the foreign news editor of the Istanbul-based daily paper ‘Zaman’.
Turkish media watchdog Bianet reports that 32 journalists and news publishers were imprisoned as of January 2015 in the country. Almost all journalists and publishers jailed in 2014 were charged with leading or being affiliated with illegal armed groups under the Turkish Penal Code and the Anti-Terrorism Act.