English PEN joins PEN International and centres around the world standing in solidarity with detained Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Can Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül. We reiterate our call for their immediate and unconditional release ahead of their appeal hearing at the Turkish Constitutional Court today, 17 February 2016.
News of the hearing was posted on Can Dündar’s Twitter feed on 16 February, stating that the hearing is ‘not just for ourselves but for our profession and our country’s freedom.’
Ann Harrison, Freedom to Write Programme Director, PEN International, said:
Can Dündar and Erdem Gül were arrested solely in connection to their legitimate reporting on a matter of intense public interest. We are very hopeful that during their independent examination of the case submitted to them, the Constitutional Court will rule that the arrest of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül was not compatible with the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution of Turkey, so paving the way for their release’
Dündar and Gül were arrested on 26 November 2015 and charged with espionage and other national security offences after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed a criminal complaint against them in June 2015 over a news story they published the previous month. The news story consisted of video and photographic evidence in Cumhuriyet of arms deliveries by the Turkish intelligence services to Islamist groups in Syria.
On 27 January it was revealed that the İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor was seeking an aggravated life sentence against both journalists- an ordinary life sentence and 30 years of imprisonment – on charges including obtaining and revealing state secrets ‘for espionage purposes’, seeking to violently overthrow the Turkish government as well as aiding an ‘armed terrorist organisation’.
Weeks after their arrest, Dündar and Gül applied to the Turkish Constitutional Court for their release, stating that their pre-trial detention was unconstitutional. They asked the court to drop all charges against them as their lawyers were prevented from examining their investigation file as a limitation was imposed on it by a lower court. PEN believes that Dündar and Gül are being held solely for their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression and for carrying out their legitimate duties as journalists and calls for their immediate and unconditional release.
PEN is deeply concerned by the deteriorating climate for freedom of expression in Turkey. PEN International’s December 2015 report – Surveillance Secrecy and Self Censorship New Digital Freedom Challenges in Turkey – issued jointly with PEN Norway, analysed increasing restrictions on freedom of expression online. At the end of 2015, PEN International recorded some 28 writers and journalists either detained or imprisoned in Turkey; well over 100 others remained on trial, mostly for alleged national security offences.