ISTANBUL: A Turkish court on Friday sentenced a prominent journalist to more than five years in prison hours after he escaped an attack by a gunman in a trial sharply criticized by international observers.
The Istanbul court found Cumhuriyet newspaper’s editor-in-chief Can Dundar guilty of revealing state secrets and sentenced him to five years and 10 months in prison. His colleague, the paper’s Ankara representative Erdem Gul, was sentenced to five years behind bars for the same charge.
The case, which is widely viewed as a test for press freedom in Turkey, relates to the pair’s reports on alleged government arms smuggling to Syria. The journalists were expected to appeal the verdict and remain free until the end of the appeals process.
Earlier Friday, a gunman shouting “traitor” fired two shots at Dundar outside the courthouse. Dundar escaped unharmed, but Yagiz Senkal, a journalist working for private NTV television was injured in the leg.
“Today we lived through two assassination attempts,” Dundar told reporters after the verdict. “One was armed, the second was judicial.”
He said the sentence aimed to silence the Turkish press and insisted journalism is not a crime. “This bullet, this decision will not intimidate us,” he added.
Last year, Cumhuriyet published what it said were images of Turkish trucks carrying ammunition to Syrian militants. The paper said the images proved that Turkey was smuggling arms to rebels — a claim the government rejects.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the national intelligence agency, MIT, were plaintiffs in the case.
“The decision to sentence Dundar and Gul to long prison terms for publishing the news shows how courts in Turkey comply with President Erdogan’s campaign of revenge against critics,” said Emma Sinclair-Webb, senior Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This has been a political trial from the start and part of the ongoing crackdown on journalism and on reporting on issues the public has a right to know about.”
Dundar accused the president of inciting violence by weighing in on the trial.
“The president acted as if he were the prosecutor of this case, he engaged in threats and blackmail, and he paved the way for an armed man to open fire,” he said. “I hope that next time he’ll think twice.”
At the final hearing, prosecutors dropped the charges of espionage and aiding a terrorist organization. On the charges of revealing state secrets, the judges deemed the pair guilty. It acquitted them on charges of planning a coup.
The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the sentencing as unjust. “What was really on trial was the Turkish criminal justice system, which is guilty of gross misconduct,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon.