One of Turkish president Recep Erdogan's key contentions in the ongoing diplomatic spat with Russia is that everything that Russia has accused Turkey of doing, from funding the Islamic State's oil purchases, to providing weapons for Syrian "rebels" intent on eradicating the Assad regime, is unfounded slander without a shred of evidence.
Here is the problem: evidence does exist, as we showed two days ago, when we presented the role Erdogan's son Bilal has played in ISIS oil transit, and not only that but also proof that Turkey has been smuggling weapons to Syria as the editor and a reporter from Turkey's Cumhuriyet newspaper showed some time ago.
And in order to eradicate the evidence against him, yesterday Erdogan did what every dictator does when feeling threatened: he had the editor and his reported detained, jailed and accused of espionage precisely over the controversial story about an alleged arms shipment from Turkish intelligence to Syrian rebels.
The two Cumhuriyet journalists were accused of “political or military spying” by reporting “classified information” and “deliberately aiding a terrorist organization."
In fact, Erdogan personally sued Dundar and is requesting that he be given a life sentence, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term in prison on charges related to a variety of crimes, ranging from espionage to attempting to topple the government and exposing secret information.
What the reporters were really doing is their job.
As the WSJ reports, "Turkish authorities on Thursday imprisoned Can Dundar, editor in chief of Cumhuriyet, and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s capital correspondent in Ankara, on charges of spying and aiding a terrorist organization, the newspaper’s attorney said. If convicted, the two men would face life in prison over the charges."
Their real offense: presenting the facts about the shady dealings and backroom politics of Erdogan's now fully-despotic regime.
The arrests are part of a renewed crackdown on Turkish media since the political party founded by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regained one-party rule earlier this month. They come on the heels of a warning from the European Union that Turkey’s clampdown on free media is jeopardizing its hopes of joining the organization.
Freedom of the press has been steadily eroding in Turkey under Mr. Erdogan. Police have closed opposition television stations, prosecutors have accused top journalists of writing tweets or columns insulting the president, and reporters have been beaten by mobs. The government is one of the world’s leading censors of Twitter, which is used widely in Turkey to criticize the government.
And this is the ideological banana republic ally of Barack Obama.
In the original Cumhuriyet report from May, the authors wrote a story, with photos and video evidence, suggesting Turkish intelligence was secretly ferrying weapons to extremist Syrian rebels. "The article sparked a major furor in Turkey, which has long been accused by its critics of secretly aiding in the growth of Islamic State militants based in neighboring Syria."
Mr. Erdogan personally sued Mr. Dundar, accused Cumhuriyet of spying and releasing false information, warning in a television interview that the journalist who wrote the piece would “pay a heavy price.”
More on the arrests:
The arrests came one week after the Turkish newspaper won this year’s Press Freedom Prize from Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom group. On Thursday, Reporters Without Borders said the arrests sent “an extremely grave signal about media freedom in Turkey.”
“For the first time, we’ve reached the level (of pressure on media in Turkey) that such a prominent figure in Turkey’s mainstream media and television for over 30 years is targeted,” said Erol Önderoglu, the group’s Turkish representative.
The propaganda from Turkey's quasi-dicator gets better: "Earlier this week, the Turkish president again lashed out at the newspaper and suggested that it had sabotaged the country’s support for moderate Turkmen rebels in Syria."
It appears that if one exposes the truth in turkey on is a criminal spy and must be put away.
Naturally, just before his arrest on Thursday, Mr. Dundar rejected the allegation that he was a spy. After three hours of testimony, Mr. Dundar said the prosecutors were focused on the wrong people.
“Who should be judged is who committed the crime, not who wrote about it,” he wrote on Twitter. Mr. Dundar said he and his paper were “defending press freedom” in the face of “lies” by the government.
Tora Pekin, one of the newspaper’s lawyers, said the government waited until after the recent parliamentary election to act against a prominent government critic.
“After Erdogan’s comments, for six months we waited for the arrests,” he said. “We were 100% certain that Dundar and Gul would be arrested.”
Here are more details on the real crime in question: Turkey's ongoing arms supply to Syrian rebels, among which very likely members of the Islamic State, courtesy of Turkey's Today Szaman:
Dundar and Gul arrived at Istanbul Courthouse on Thursday morning to testify as part of a terrorism investigation. The investigation was launched after Cumhuriyet published photos in May of weapons which it said were transferred to Syria in trucks operated by the National Intelligence Organization (MIT).
“We came here to defend journalism. We came here to defend the right of the public to obtain the news and their right to know if their government is feeding them lies. We came here to show and to prove that governments cannot engage in illegal activity and defend this,” Dundar told the press outside the courthouse.
The articles, published on the daily's front page, reported that the trucks in question were intercepted by gendarmes on two occasions in January 2014 after prosecutors received tip-offs that they were illegally carrying arms to Syria. There have been allegations that the arms were going to extremist groups fighting against the Syrian regime. Ankara, on the other hand, insisted that the trucks were carrying aid to Syrian Turkmens and branded their interception as an act of “treason” and “espionage.”
Dundar continued, “First the government responded saying: ‘No there is nothing of the sort. This is aid. Then it was revealed that these were guns. Then they said that these were going to the Turkmens. Then the present deputy prime minister, Tugrul Turkei said, ‘I swear to God they [the trucks] were not going to the Turkmens.' … Then later the Turkmens said they did not receive any arms.”
“The president is acting as if this is a personal lawsuit, saying I will be following this, and I will not let it go. He, personally, is the complainant. I do not know why the president alone is the complainant. This secret is a secret that belongs to the state, it is not a secret that belongs to him personally.”
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally sued Dundar and is requesting that he be given a life sentence, an aggravated life sentence and an additional 42-year term in prison on charges related to a variety of crimes, ranging from espionage to attempting to topple the government and exposing secret information.
For the coverage of the MIT trucks, President Erdogan has publicly targeted Dundar, saying: "The individual who has reported this as an exclusive story will pay a heavy price for this," in a television interview with state broadcaster TRT late in June.
“We are being charged with being spies, the president is saying that we are traitors to the state. We are not spies, we are not traitors, we are not heroes; we are journalists,” Dundar added outside the courthouse.
“There is a crime that has been committed by the state that they are trying to cover up,” he said, adding that the state is understandably in panic over the reporting done by the paper for it has the potential to reach an international audience and show the world the crimes committed by the Turkish state.
Following the Cumhuriyet report, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it is “none of anybody's business” what the trucks contained. Speaking in a live broadcast on the Haberturk news station in May, Davutoglu said, “This is a blatant act of espionage.”
After the publication of video stills as well as video footage, Erdogan lashed out at Cumhuriyet and Dundar for publishing the evidence and publicly vowed that Dundar would “pay a heavy price” for his report.
According to the report, the trucks were carrying six steel containers which contained a total of 1,000 artillery shells, 50,000 machine gun rounds, 30,000 heavy machine gun rounds and 1,000 mortar shells. All of this is registered in the prosecutor's file on the MIT truck case, the report said.
The photos, published on the daily's front page in late May, show steel containers filled with mortar shells and ammunition underneath boxes of medicine. The daily also published a video showing the containers on trucks being opened and searched by gendarmes.
Earlier this month, Cumhuriyet was awarded the prestigious Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Prize for its contribution to defending press freedom.
There was an outpour of support for the veteran journalists from their colleagues and politicians. Republican People's Party (CHP) deputies were among the many CHP representatives that came to the courthouse to show their solidarity; People's Democratic Party (HDP) deputy Garo Paylan was also present. Journalist Hasan Cemal, writer Pelin Batu and Confederation of Revolutionary Workers' Unions (DSK) Secretary-General Arzu Cerkezoglu also came to the courthouse to stand by Dundar and Erdem.
The Turkish Journalists' Association (TGC) and Journalists Union of Turkey (TGS) gave a written statement saying that the Cumhuriyet daily performed its duty of informing the public and that it is not the job of journalists to protect the government.
And that's why Erdogan can claim there is no "proof" of his cabinet's illegal dealings with ISIS and extremist jihadists: when proof emerges, anyone who revealed it risks spending the rest of their life (and another 42 year on top) in prison.