German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) slammed the ruling of a Turkish court on Wednesday that sentenced exiled journalist Can Dündar to 27 years, six months’ imprisonment for a news report documenting Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization’s (MİT) arms transfers to Syria, the Stockholm Center for Freedom reported.
Maas defined the court’s ruling against Dündar as “a hard blow to independent journalism in Turkey” on Twitter and said journalism is an indispensable service to society, especially when it provides critical oversight of governments.
He also reminded the Turkish government of its commitment under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect freedom of the press.
The court sentenced Dündar to 18 years, nine months’ imprisonment for obtaining state secrets for the purpose of political or military espionage and an additional eight years, nine months for supporting an armed terrorist organization without holding membership in it.
Lawyers for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and MİT were present at the Wednesday hearing, which was boycotted by Dündar’s lawyers, who slammed the charges as politically motivated.
Another member of the German government, Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Assistance Dr. Bärbel Kofler, said she was appalled by Dündar’s sentence and called on the Turkish government to “ensure the rule of law and freedom of the press.”
In a statement the CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator Gulnoza Said said, “Turkish authorities have shown again that they will use all means at their disposal to harass and threaten members of the press.”
According to Said the CPJ “condemns today’s sentencing of journalist Can Dündar, and is relieved that he is safely out of the country.”
On May 29, 2015 Dündar, together with his colleague Erdem Gül, published a report in the Cumhuriyet daily on MİT trucks stopped by gendarmes, headlined “Here are the weapons Erdoğan said don’t exist.”
The story sparked a political firestorm in Turkey about the role of the Turkish spy agency in arming rebel factions in Syria and prompted an investigation into the journalists.
One of the leading jailers of journalists in the world, Turkey was ranked 154th out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in April.
According to the Stockholm Center for Freedom’s “Jailed and Wanted Journalists in Turkey” database, 174 journalists are currently behind bars in Turkey, while 167 are wanted and are either in exile or remain at large.