UPDATE: A court in Turkey has declared editor Can Dündar a “fugitive”, paying the way for his assets and property to be seized.

“IPI condemns this serious and appalling escalation of Turkey’s harassment of Can Dündar, who is now in Germany, and his family”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned a court ruling in a closed hearing which orders former Cumhuriyet newspaper editor-in-chief Can Dündar to physically report to the court in Turkey or be deemed a “fugitive” and have all of his property confiscated.

A Turkish court’s ruling on September 17 followed a request by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office and gave Dündar, who currently lives in exile in Germany, 15 days to report in person to the court where he faces an ongoing trial.

Dündar has been prosecuted since 2015 after reporting on the alleged transportation of armed weapons to Syria by the Turkish Intelligence Agency (MIT) and charged with various criminal charges including espionage and revealing state secrets.

The original date of the next hearing was set for February 18, 2021, however local media and Dündar himself reported that the court rescheduled the hearing at the last minute to September 17, where Dündar was deemed to be on the run. The next hearing will be held on October 14, 2020.

Speaking to IPI about the latest ruling Can Dündar said: “The article I wrote has not proved wrong, on the contrary, it appeared to be true. But since that day I have been prosecuted with a life sentence, was arrested, served time in prison, got shot at, had gone to into exile, my wife was taken as hostage and now they seize our home. As a journalist, this is the price you pay when you advocate for the truth.”

“But let’s not forget our colleagues who paid a heavier price and got assassinated. If we stop fighting for freedom of expression, that is when we actually lose. So, for the cost of losing everything, we will continue to defend our right to tell the truth,” he added.

“IPI is appalled at the continued judicial harassment of Can Dündar as a consequence of his journalistic activity,” IPI Executive Director Barbara Trionfi said on the court’s ruling last week and added: “Can’s rights have been violated repeatedly: by prosecuting him in the first place, imposing lengthy pre-trial detention, and now by threatening to confiscate his property if he doesn’t appear in court in person.”

“IPI urges the court to reconsider the September 17 ruling on the basis of the fact that Can was forced into exile by an attempt on his life and that for him, returning to Turkey to attend the trial, would mean to face that risk again.”

An investigation was launched against the independent Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet over an article it published on May 29, 2015, titled “Here are the weapons that Erdogan said do not exist”.

Then editor-in-chief, Dündar, and former Ankara correspondent, Erdem Gül, reported that trucks owned by Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) that had been allegedly shipping illicit arms to Syria had been stopped by gendarmerie officers.

Within the scope of the investigation carried out by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office, Dündar and Gül were arrested on November 26, 2015. Dündar was prosecuted on charges of “providing information about the security of the state”, “political and military espionage”, “disclosure of information that should be kept secret” and “the propaganda of a terrorist organization.”

After more than 90 days in prison, Dündar and Gül were released on February 26, 2016, after the Constitutional Court decided their prolonged detention was in “violation of [their] rights”. After the decision, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed that he would not be complying with it.

At the fourth hearing the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court, which accepted the indictment prepared by the Chief Prosecutor’s Office, then sentenced Dündar to 5 years and 10 months in prison and Gül to 5 years on May 6, 2016, on the charge of “disclosing the state’s information that should be kept secret.”

During the recess of the hearing, an armed attack was carried out against Dündar in front of the Istanbul Çağlayan Courthouse. Since then, he has been living in exile in Germany for his own safety. Despite the sentencing, Dündar and Gül remain free pending the outcome of the appeal.

On March 9, 2018, the Supreme Court of Cassation overturned the Regional Court of Appeal’s verdicts of prison sentences of Dündar and Gül. The Court instead ruled the verdict for Dündar should be changed to “espionage’’ and the sentence should be increased from 5 years and 10 months to 15-20 years; and Gül should have been acquitted. A re-trial started at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court on May 7, 2018.