Documentary film-maker Dilek Dündar said simply: “We are living as if in a big prison.” Wife of Can Dündar, the sacked former editor-in-chief of the centre-left daily Cumhuryet, she is hardly exaggerating.
Along with 154 imprisoned colleagues, Dündar, 55 – who fled to Germany last year – faces trial for spreading “propaganda for a terrorist organization.”
Mrs Dündar cannot visit her husband or her son abroad as her passport was confiscated. She faces ruin if her husband does not return within three months. Under state of emergency legislation following the failed coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in July 2016, they face confiscation of both their apartment and their financial property.
Dündar and Cumhuryet’s Ankara bureau chief were jailed in November 2015 after the liberal-left paper published allegations that the Turkish secret service MIT was supplying arms dressed up as medical supplies to jihadists in Syria. Dündar was released a year ago when the constitutional court decided his “rights to personal liberty and security had been violated”.
Dündar did not wait for his trial and fled to Germany. If he returns home he faces possible lifelong imprisonment.
As AEJ President I represented one of six international organisations on a fact-finding-mission to Turkey from February 27 to March 2; the others were the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters without Borders (RWB), Article 19, Pen-Club Sweden and the European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF).
We visited colleagues from different media, opposition politicians, media lawyers, and diplomats. Our requests to see the minister of justice, the head of the constitutional court, and also our demands to see imprisoned journalists were all summarily rejected.
In a joint statement we have called on the Turkish government to release all 155 journalists behind bars – many of them already in jail for several months without being formally charged.
Most were arrested for nothing more than reports or editorial comments, a clear violation of international conventions on human rights and freedom of speech which Turkey signed years ago.
The journalist in prison face severe privations. Family visits are allowed only once every other month, and for a maximum of one hour. There is only limited access to lawyers and then only under strict surveillance. No documents or letters are allowed to be either sent or received. No books or magazines can be purchased, only newspapers – a minor privilege, since these support now effectively –with a few exceptions- the government.
The six organisations take a sceptical view of the upcoming referendum on constitutional changes in Turkey on April 16th, which would vastly increase President Erdoğan’s power.
In our view the prospects of a free, democratic vote on fundamental changes to how Turkey is governed are slight to vanishing unless emergency laws are lifted.
The AEJ will continue to observe the situation of the Turkish media as closely as possible, and maintain contact and support for our section there.
LINK TO ARTICLE IN profil MAGAZINE, VIENNA (in German):