Can Dündar, the former editor-in-chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet daily, was jailed on November 26, 2015, along with the newspaper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gül in relation with a news report on an alleged weapons transfer to Syria on trucks operated by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT).
The two journalists were put under arrest on charges of “acquiring documents related to state security,” “political and military espionage,” “disclosing classified documents” and “spreading propaganda on behalf of a terrorist organization.”
Ninety-two days into their imprisonment, on February 25, 2016, Dündar and Gül were released following a Constitutional Court ruling that found rights violations in their imprisonment.
On May 6, 2016, Dündar was handed down a prison sentence of seven years, reduced to five years and 10 months, for “acquiring and disclosing classified documents related to state security.” The court acquitted both Gül and Dündar of the charge of “attempting to overthrow the government.” It also ruled to treat other accusations related to the same report — “aiding FETÖ/PDY terrorist organization without being its member” — as a different case.
The court also dismissed the military espionage charge, saying it was unable to establish any connection to an agreement with a foreign nation or a terrorist organization.
Despite the sentencing, Dündar remained free, pending the outcome of appeal.
During the hearing’s recess, an armed person shot at Dündar outside the Çağlayan Courthouse. Dündar escaped without injury.
On 21 September 2016, the case against Dündar and Gül on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” was merged with another file against main opposition CHP lawmaker Enis Berberoğku, a former journalist, who is purported to have given the MİT trucks images to Dündar. Submitting theri final opinion of this case on 11 January 2017, the prosecution requested that all three defendants be convicted of “aiding a terrrorist organization without being its member” and given prison terms between 7.5 and 15 years. The prosecution additionally sought aggravated life imprisonment for Berberoğlu on the charge of “disclosing confidential information for espionage purposes.”
On 24 May 2017 the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court heard the 7th hearing of this case. The hearing was closed to the public. The trial was adjourned until 14 June.
Rendering its verdict concerning Berberoğlu at the end of the hearing on 14 June 2017, the court initially sentenced Berberoğlu to aggravated life imprisonment of the “espionage” charge, which it then reduced to 25 years in prison. The court also ruled for his immediate arrest on the grounds that he was a “flight risk.” The court ruled to separate the “aiding a terrorist group” charge against all three.
Trial on “aiding a terrorist organization” charge
The second hearing of the separated case on the “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member” charge was held on 20 December 2017 at the Istanbul 14th High Criminal Court. The prosecutor demanded up to 15 years in jail for Dündar, Gül and Berberoğlu. The trial was adjourned until 24 January 2018.
The third hearing took place on 24 January 2018. The panel was replaced during this hearing by the court’s second panel. The panel adjourned the trial until 16 February 2018 since Berberoğlu’s lawyers were seeking the expansion of the investigation but asked to make this request before the original panel of judges overseeing the trial.
At the fourth hearing held on 16 February 2018, the court announced the approval and merging of an indictment against Dündar on the charge of “acquiring and disclosing classified documents related to state security for political and military espionage purposes” after the completion of the investigation conducted by the Istanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office’s Terror and Organized Crime Bureau.
The lawyers of Dündar and Gül requested to wait for the outcome of the appeal process and the conviction to be finalized for the previous MIT trucks case.
The lawyers told that they are under the impression that the decision to be rendered in Berberoğlu’s case by the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice could influence this case file and they requested the abatement of the proceedings in order to wait for all these different trials to be finalized. The prosecutor then reiterated their previous final opinion. Issuing an interim decision, the court rejected the request to put on hold this trial to wait for the other trials to conclude since it would prolong the prosecution without contributing to it.
The panel announced its opinion on the case file recently merged with the one at hand about “the footage of the MIT trucks uploaded on YouTube in 2017.” Deciding that the acts in question are different in the two cases and since that case file would not contribute to the ongoing case, the court ruled to separate that case file. The court also adjourned the trial until 14 March for the preparation of the defense statements.
At the end of the 5th closed hearing held on 14 March 2018, the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled to add to the case file the judgment on Berberoğlu rendered by the 2nd Criminal Chamber of the Istanbul Regional Court of Justice and also wait for the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals’ decision to overturn the sentences given to Dündar and Gül. The trial was adjourned until 9 May 2018.
At the 6th hearing of the trial on 9 May 2018, Berberoğlu and Gül were in attendance. Dündar was represented by his lawyers. Berberoğlu’s lawyers informed the court that the witnesses in the list they had submitted to the court were ready to testify and requested that the court hear the witnesses during the next session, when the presiding judge is present. In its interim decision, the panel accepted the request of the lawyers and granted a continuance until 18 July 2018.
While Dündar, who is abroad, could not attend the 7th hearing of the trial held on 18 July 2018, Erdem Gül and his lawyers Bülent Utku and Fikret İlkiz were in attendance. Berberoğlu addressed the court from the Maltepe Prison via SEGBİS. Berberoğlu’s lawyers requested the abatement of the proceedings concerning their client since he was elected a deputy. The panel decided to consider the request in the next hearing and adjourned the trial until 10 October 2018 for the preparation of the defense statements of Gül and Dündar.
On 10 October 2018, Gül and Berberoğlu and their lawyers were in attendance at the 8th hearing of the closed trial. Dündar and Gül’s lawyers requested the hearings to be opened to the public. The court rejected the request on the grounds that the subject matter of the trial concerned national security and adjourned the trial until 6 February 2019.
The 9th hearing of the trial took place on 6 February 2019. Gül and Berberoğlu were in attendance with their lawyers. Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing the court ruled to separate the case of Dündar and adjourned the trial until 15 May 2019.
Supreme Court of Appeals ruling and retrial of first “MİT Trucks case”
In March 2018, the 16th Criminal Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s 6 May 2016 judgment that convicted Dündar and Gül of “acquiring and disclosing classified documents related to the security of the state” in the “MİT Trucks case.” The Supreme Court of Appeals said the verdict for Dündar should have been based on “espionage” charges and that Gül should have been acquitted.
Receiving the case file back for retrial following the Supreme Court of Appeals’ reversal of judgment, the 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul recorded that Dündar wa “abroad and inaccesible in order to render the investigation inconclusive” and decided that Dündar needed to be “immediately arrested.”
The 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul started the retrial of Dündar and Gül in the “MİT Trucks case” on 7 May 2018. Issuing an interim ruling at the end of the hearing, the court ordered the separation of Gül’s file from this case and adjourned the trial until 2 October 2018, awaiting the result of an application filed by Turkish authorities to Belgium for Can Dündar’s extradition. Gül was later acquitted.
Dündar’s retrial in the “MİT Trucks case,” this time on “espionage” charge, resumed on 2 October 2018. The 14th High Criminal Court of Istanbul adjourned the trial until 6 February 2019, awaiting the outcome of Justice Ministry’s application with German authorities for Dündar’s extradition to Turkey.
The third hearing in Dündar’s retrial took place on 6 February 2019. Dündar’s lawyers and the lawyers representing President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the MİT Undersecretary were in attendance. In its interim ruling, the court ruled to wait for the outcome of the request filed with German authorities for Dündar’s extradition and set 15 May as the date for the next hearing. The court also ruled to merge two other case files against Dündar overseen by the same court with the ongoing case on the grounds of legal and de facto connection among the files.
In its interim ruling announced at the end of the fourth hearing of this case held on 15 May 2019, the court ruled to wait for the response from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a sample and a translation of the complaint letter written by the head of the Permanent Mission of the Syrian Arab Republic to the United Nations to the Presidency of the UN Security Council and the Secretary General about the Government of the Republic of Turkey on 5 June 2015 mentioned in the Supreme Court of Appeals’ remittitur. The court also decided to wait for the response from German judicial authorities concerning Turkey’s extradition request for Dündar and set 31 October 2019 as the date for the next hearing.
Dündar is also among defendants in the Cumhuriyet trial. Prosecutor seeks up to 15 years in prison for Dündar on the charge of “aiding a terrorist organization without being its member.” A warrant was issued for Dündar’s arrest as part of the Cumhuriyet case on October 30, 2016.
During the seventh hearing of this trial on March 16, 2018, overseen by the 27th High Criminal Court of Istanbul, the prosecutor submitted his final opinion, demanding prison sentences for 14 defendants. In its interim decision, the court ruled to postpone the trial until April 24-27, 2018, awaiting the execution of arrest warrants for Dündar and another co-defendant in the case, İlhan Tanır, who both live abroad. The defendants will present their final defense statements at the next hearing to be held over four days from April 24-27 in Silivri.
At the final hearing of the Cumhuriyet trial on 25 April 2018, the court ruled to separate the files of Dündar and Tanır, who both face arrest warrants as part of the case.
Özgür Gündem solidarity trial
On December 22, 2016, another arrest warrant was issued for Dündar in a case in which he faces up to three years in prison for “publishing statements by terrorist organizations” in connection with his role in a solidarity campaign with the pro-Kurdish Özgür Gündem daily, which was later closed down under an emergency decree. Dündar was one of the scores of journalists who symbolically edited Özgür Gündem for a day in the summer of 2016 as part of the solidarity campaign.
Dündar’s trial resumed on 4 September 2018 at the Istanbul 22nd High Criminal Court. The trial was adjourned until 31 January 2019.
At the end of what marked the ninth hearing of this case on 31 January 2019, the 22nd High Criminal Court of Istanbul ruled to keep the arrest warrant for Dündar in place. The court adjourned the trial until 18 July 2019, awaiting the completion of legal procedures for Dündar’s defense statement to be taken abroad.
Dündar is among 16 defendants accused of “attempting to overthrow the government” in a separate indictment issued in February 2019 and accepted by the 30th High Criminal Court of Istanbul on 4 March 2019. All 16 face aggravated life imprisonment in the case, where the accusation is based on 2013’s nationwide Gezi Park protests. Dündar’s co-defendants in the case include jailed businessman Osman Kavala and actor Memet Ali Alabora.
The 657-page document alleges that the 16 suspects attempted to manipulate and set the protests into motion beginning in 2011; that they “financed” the demonstrations; and were the “top level orchestrators” of the events.
Yet another arrest warrant has been issued for Dündar as part of this case.
The court will start hearing the case on 24 June 2019 in a courtroom near the Silivri Prison complex.