Turkish Court of Appeals reverses ruling on journalist Dündar in MİT trucks case, requests more punishment

Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals on Friday reversed an earlier ruling by a high criminal court in İstanbul for journalist Can Dündar, convicted of allegedly having leaked secret documents in the “MİT trucks” case, saying the Cumhuriyet daily’s former editor-in-chief should be sentenced to from 15 to 20 years in prison on charges of “spying.”

“The sentence should be based on allegations of collecting classified information with the purpose of spying,” the court’s 16th penal chamber announced on Friday. Dündar was sentenced to five years, 10 months, while journalist Erdem Gül, Cumhuriyet’s Ankara bureau chief, was sentenced to five years by the İstanbul 14th High Criminal Court during the much-publicized National Intelligence Organization (MİT) trucks case in 2014.

According to the court’s decision, the earlier ruling, which charged Dündar and Gül with “leaking state secrets” and sentenced him to five years, did not fully define the scope of his crime. The court said Dündar was guilty of “obtaining confidential documents for military espionage” and should be sentenced to 15 to 20 years in prison.

The court said Dündar was capable of knowing the nature of state secrets, adding that he committed military espionage on behalf of the Syrian government.

The MİT trucks, which were carrying weapons and ammunition to radical Islamist/jihadist groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus, were stopped in January 2014 in Adana and Hatay provinces by the Turkish gendarmerie after prosecutors received tips that they were carrying arms to Syria. The left-leaning Cumhuriyet daily published photographs of the trucks, their contents and details of the incident.

Although the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government has claimed that the trucks were transporting humanitarian aid to the Turkmen community in Syria, opposition voices have continued to question why, if the operation was within the law, the government intervened to prevent the trucks from being searched.

The prosecutors involved and a former gendarmerie officer were imprisoned after a court ordered their arrest due to their role in the search of trucks allegedly carrying weapons to opposition groups in Syria, a move that came shortly after government figures, including Turkey’s autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, accused the officials of “treason and espionage.”

A case was filed against those involved in the investigation and an indictment, which was approved by the Tarsus High Criminal Court in July 2015, seeks a life sentence for Adana Chief Public Prosecutor Süleyman Bağrıyanık, former Adana Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Ahmet Karaca and Adana prosecutors Aziz Takçı and Özcan Şişman as well as Gendarmerie Commander Col. Özkan Çokay, who were involved in the investigation.

Dündar and Gül were initially arrested but they were later released on March 9, 2016 after a controversial ruling that their rights had been violated. Dündar later on fled Turkey to Germany in July 2017.

Meanwhile, in the sixth hearing of the trial of 17 Cumhuriyet executives and journalists, including the newspaper’s Editor-in-Chief Murat Sabuncu, CEO Akın Atalay and journalist Ahmet Şık, the testimonies of several witnesses were heard, and the suspects denied any links to the the Gülen movement.

Before the hearing started, a group that included main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputies Sezgin Tanrıkulu and Utku Çakırözer, and Kani Beko, chairman of the Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions (DİSK), wanted to issue a press statement outside the courthouse. However, gendarmes prevented it, basing their decision on a prohibition of open-air press conferences in İstanbul.

“We are here for the Cumhuriyet case, for press freedom and justice. This is fascism. We will oppose theses kinds of acts in every situation. They are illegal. Our friends have been in prison for more than 500 days,” CHP deputy Tanrıkulu said.

Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by SCF show that 248 journalists and media workers were in jail as of March 9, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 193 were under arrest pending trial while only 55 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 139 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.

Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, the government also closed down more than 180 media outlets after the controversial coup attempt.

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