Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar and the daily’s Ankara Bureau Chief Erdem Gül were arrested Nov. 26 due to a story about Turkish intelligence trucks bound for Syria in early 2014.
“We are accused of ‘spying.’ The president said [our action is] ‘treason.’ We are not traitors, spy, or heroes; we are journalists. What we have done here was a journalistic activity,” Dündar said before testifying to prosecutors Nov. 26.
“Of course this prosecution will help enlighten how these incidents took place, rather than how we covered this story.”
Dündar and Gül were arrested on charges of espionage and being a member of an armed terrorist organization based on reports in Cumhuriyet regarding Syrian-bound trucks sent by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT).
The armed organization mentioned by the prosecutors refers to Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), a term used by prosecutors to define the followers of Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic scholar.
Footage released by Cumhuriyet on May 29 reportedly showed gendarmerie and police officers opening crates on the back of trucks which contained what the daily described as weapons and ammunition sent to Syria by MİT in January 2014.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan filed an individual criminal complaint against Dündar and Cumhuriyet on June 2, claiming that the story “included some footage and information that are not factual” while saying the person “who wrote the story will pay a heavy price.”
The criminal complaint, which was filed to the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office to be sent to Istanbul where Cumhuriyet is based, argued that the newspaper “participated in the actions” of the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan’s erstwhile ally, whose followers are accused of infiltrating the police, the judiciary and the bureaucracy.
“By publishing fabricated footage and information that were leaked to him by the parallel organization, [Dündar] participated in the actions of the organization’s members who searched the trucks and plotted with fabricated evidence to create a perception … that the Republic of Turkey as helping terrorist organizations,” the complaint said.
The plaintiff accused Dündar of both “trying to manipulate justice” with fabricated material and “violating confidentiality” by publishing the story. Erdoğan’s lawyer, Muammer Cemaloğlu, also requested the prosecutor launch a public lawsuit following the investigation.
Erdoğan said on Nov. 24 that whether or not the trucks carried weapons was irrelevant.
“What difference would it make whether the trucks contained weapons or not?” he asked, defining the publishing of the story as a “betrayal.”
Erdoğan claimed the trucks were set to deliver humanitarian aid to Bayırbucak Turkmens and that the journalists were complicit in “sabotaging” this aid merely to harm the image of himself and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.