Imprisonment of Two Senior Editors of the Turkish Daily Cumhuriyet, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül

Update: 13 May 2016 State replied
Year 27 Nov 2015 Country Turkey Category Detention and imprisonment of journalists Source of threat State Partner RSF , AEJ , EFJ/IFJ , Index Alert level Level 1
27 Nov 2015 Turkey Detention and imprisonment of journalists State RSF , AEJ , EFJ/IFJ , Index Level 1

On 26 November 2015, at the request of Istanbul prosecutor’s office, Can Dündar, editor of the daily Cumhuriyet and its Ankara representative Erdem Gül were taken before a judge and placed in pre-trial detention on charges of membership of a terrorist organization, espionage and divulging state secrets. Dündar and Gül were investigated in connection with an article published in May 2015 about allegations that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MIT) had been delivering arms to rebels in Syria. The newspaper produced a video and photos to support the claim. In June 2015, after Cumhuriyet published the video, President Erdoğan had personally filed a complaint accusing Dündar of spying, and publicly vowed that he would ‘not get away with it.’ Since then, Cumhuriyet and Dündar were being investigated on the basis of a criminal complaint referring to several articles of the Turkish penal code. The imprisonment of the two journalists is additional evidence that the Turkish authorities are suppressing independent journalism in Turkey. In April 2015, Can Dündar was already the subject of an alert on the Council of Europe platform, regarding his prosecution on charges of insulting Turkey’s President Erdoğan and violating the confidentiality of an investigation. Dündar had published a series of articles about a corruption investigation by prosecutors in which close associates of Mr Erdoğan were implicated. The high number of lawsuits initiated on behalf of President Erdoğan against journalists critical of the government are consistent with a concerted attempt to intimidate his opponents to remain silent about issues which are manifestly of public interest.

Updates

New 10 May 2016 : On 6 May 2016, the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court convicted Can Dündar and Erdem Gül --the former for ‘obtaining and revealing state secrets’, the latter for ‘revealing state secrets’. They were respectively sentenced to five years and 10 months and five years in prison. Shortly before the Court's decision earlier that day, Dundar survived an attempted shooting where the gunman instead wounded another journalist reporting on the Court case. Both journalists were acquitted of charges of trying to overthrow the government and espionage. But the Court ordered that the charges of “knowingly and willfully” helping a terrorist organization must be separated from the trial in order to await a verdict in a separate case against the two men on charges of supporting terrorist organisations. The Court has also ordered the lifting of the ban on the two journalists’ rights to leave the country and ruled that their political rights, including the right to vote, should be restored.
29 Mar 2016 : On 25 March 2016, an Istanbul court ruled for the whole trial of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül to be held in camera. The hearing was adjourned until 1st April 2016.
26 Feb 2016 : Can Dündar and Erdem Gül were freed in the early hours of 26 February 2016 after Turkey's Constitutional Court ruled that their detentions had violated their rights.
25 Feb 2016 : On 25 February 2016, by a 12-3 vote, the plenary of the Turkish Constitutional Court ruled that Can Dündar and Erdem Gül's right to freedom and security, right to express and disseminate thought, and the freedom of press as guaranteed by Articles 19, 26 and 28 of the Constitution had been violated.
28 Jan 2016 : On 27 January 2016, during a court hearing in Istanbul, prosecution demanded “aggravated life imprisonment and imprisonment up to 30 years” for Can Dündar and Erdem Gül.
01 Dec 2015 : RSF launches international appeal for release of ​Cumhuriyet journalists

State replies

15 Dec 2015 : Statement of the Permanent Representative of Turkey to the Council of Europe to the 1242nd meeting of the Ministrers' Deputies
07 Dec 2015 : Response of the Turkish Government (information provided by the Ministry of Justice)

Follow-ups

New 13 May 2016 : The Council of Europe Secretary General refers to the case of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in his address to the Committee of Ministers on 11 May 2016.
10 Mar 2016 : The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe expresses its serious concern at recent developments in Turkey with respect to restrictions on media freedom and access to pluralistic information, challenges to the decisions of the Constitutional Court.
03 Mar 2016 : Secretary General welcomes the release of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in his address to the Committee of Ministers
26 Feb 2016 : Secretary General Jagland welcomes the release of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül.
14 Jan 2016 : CoE Secretary General mentions the continuing detention of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in his allocution to the Committee of Ministers about the outcome of the meeeting of the informal working group on freedom of expression in Turkey
03 Dec 2015 : CoE Secretary General focuses on the arrest of Can Dündar and Erdem Gül in his address to the Committee of Ministers
30 Nov 2015 : Hürriyet Daily News article quoting the statement by the spokesperson of European Council Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland
27 Nov 2015 : OSCE Representative condemns arrest of journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, urges Turkey not to proceed with charges
27 Nov 2015 : Ingebjørg Godskesen and Nataša Vuckovic, co-rapporteurs for PACE’s post-monitoring dialogue with Turkey question arrests of leading journalists
27 Nov 2015 : Statement by Nils Muiznieks, CoE Commissioner for Human Rights

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20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Mehmet Altan’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Altan’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Altan’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.

20 March 2018

On 20 March 2018, the European Court of Human Rights issued its Grand chamber judgment on Şahin Alpay’s case. The Court found there had been a violation of Article 5 § 1 (right to liberty and security) and a violation of Article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention for Human Rights. With regards to article 5 §1, according to the Court findings, “Mr Alpay’s continued pre-trial detention, after the Constitutional Court’s clear and unambiguous judgment of 11 January 2018 (…), could not be regarded as ‘lawful’ ”. The Court held that “for another court to call into question the powers conferred on a constitutional court to give final and binding judgments on individual applications ran counter to the fundamental principles of the rule of law and legal certainty, which (…) were the cornerstones of the guarantees against arbitrariness”. Under Article 46 (binding force and execution of judgments) of the Convention, the Court held that it was incumbent on the respondent State to ensure the termination of Mr Alpay’s pre-tria detention at the earliest possible date. Under Article 10, the Court held in particular that “there was no reason to reach a different conclusion from that of the Constitutional Court, which had found that Mr Alpay’s initial and continued pre-trial detention, following his expression of his opinions, constituted a severe measure that could not be regarded as a necessary and proportionate interference in a democratic society”. The Court pointed out in particular that “criticism of governments and publication of information regarded by a country’s leaders as endangering national interests should not attract criminal charges for particularly serious offences such as belonging to or assisting a terrorist organisation, attempting to overthrow the government or the constitutional order or disseminating terrorist propaganda”.
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