The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned the attempted shooting of Turkish journalist Can Dündar today outside the courthouse where he was expected to hear the verdict in a criminal case over reports claiming that Turkey’s intelligence agency secretly armed Islamist rebel groups in Syria.
Dündar, editor-in-chief of daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, escaped unharmed when a man opened fire outside the Cağlayan Justice Palace in central Istanbul during a recess in the trial targeting Dündar and Cumhuriyet Ankara representative Erdem Gül. Another journalist with private broadcaster NTV, Yağız Şenkal, was struck in the leg but is expected to recover.
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UPDATE: Dündar and Gül were acquitted late today of some of the more serious charges they faced, but convicted on charges of disclosing classified documents. Dündar was reportedly sentenced to spend five years and 10 months behind bars, while Gül was given a five-year prison term. The journalists were not immediately taken into custody and are expected to remain free pending a challenge to the convictions.
IPI said the group was “disappointed” by the conviction, even if it welcomed the acquittal on the other charges.
“This case shows the dangers of politicising ‘state secrets’ and the need for journalists and whistleblowers to be allowed to present a public interest defence,” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis said. “IPI will continue to stand by Mr. Dündar and Mr. Gül, and all journalists punished for doing their jobs.”
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The assailant, who was apprehended at the scene, was identified as Murat Şahin. He approached Dündar as he was speaking to reporters and fired two shots at the journalist’s legs, saying: “You are a traitor.”
Reports indicate that Dündar’s wife and an MP from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) restrained the gunman, who then surrendered when police intervened.
In comments following today’s attack, Dündar said: “I do not know who [the assailant] is. I only saw he pointed his gun at me. We know who painted us as a target.”
IPI Director of Communications and Advocacy Steven M. Ellis labelled today’s attack “appalling”, adding: “IPI is grateful that Mr. Dündar was unharmed and we wish Mr. Şenkal a swift and complete recovery.”
Ellis added that he feared the attack appeared to be the result of a “toxic political climate” created by hostile and over-the-top rhetoric that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and others in the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have used against their critics in recent years.
“The president has shown himself to be completely intolerant to criticism and he has regularly branded those who question him or allege wrongdoing by his administration as ‘traitors’,” Ellis said. “In this case, he even demanded that Dündar and Gül ‘pay a heavy price’ for reporting information – which happens to be in the public interest – and he vowed that he would not respect decisions by Turkey’s Constitutional Court upholding their human rights.
“Human rights defenders have repeatedly spoken out about the deteriorating state of press freedom in Turkey in recent years, but we remained thankful that the murders of so many journalists in past decades appeared to be behind the country. We fervently hope that today’s events do not signal a return to those dark days and we call on officials at all levels of government to publicly denounce this act and state clearly that such violence will not be tolerated.”
Dündar and Gül are expected to hear a verdict today in the case alleging they aided a terrorist organisation and disclosed classified documents in a May 29, 2015 report in Cumhuriyet that included a video purportedly showing Turkish security forces searching trucks owned by the country’s intelligence agency travelling to Syria containing crates of ammunition and weapons.
Erdoğan, who maintains that the trucks carried aid bound for ethnic Turkmen in Syria opposed to both the Islamic State group and the regime of President Bashar al Assad, claims the weapons were planted by adherents of a movement led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former ally-turned-nemesis. Officials have labelled the movement a “terrorist organisation”, claiming it sought to develop a “parallel state” in order to force Erdoğan and the AKP government from power.
Dündar and Gül were detained in November 2015 and held for nearly 100 days in Turkey’s Silivri Prison until the country’s Constitutional Court ruled that the journalists’ pre-trial detention violated their human rights. Both journalists were subsequently released pending trial, which began on March 25. Nevertheless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed that he would neither recognise nor obey the Constitutional Court’s ruling.