President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has filed a criminal complaint against a Turkish newspaper and its editor over a critical news report, hours after he said they would pay a “heavy price,” which comment was heavily criticised by the international community.
Footage released by ‘Cumhuriyet’ on May 29 showed gendarmerie and police officers opening crates on the back of the trucks which contain what the newspaper described as weapons and ammunition sent to Syria by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) in January 2014.
“This slander and illegitimate operation against the MİT are, in a way, an act of espionage. This newspaper is involved in this espionage activity, too,” Erdoğan said during an interview with public broadcaster TRT late May 31. “I suppose the person who wrote this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price for this,” he added, referring to Cumhuriyet’s editor-in-chief, Can Dündar.
On June 2, ‘Cumhuriyet’ editorial staff and columnists posted a picture of themselves on the newspaper’s front page, proclaiming that all of them were responsible for the report in tandem with a social media campaign, #CanDündarYalnızDeğildir (Can Dündar is not alone).
Continuing his tough stance on the matter, 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.”
The criminal complaint, filed to Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s Office to be sent to Istanbul where ‘Cumhuriyet’ is based, argued that the newspaper “joined the actions” of the followers of US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, Erdoğan’s former ally, whose followers in the judicial and security organs are now described by the government as “the parallel organisation.”
“By publishing the fabricated footage and information that were leaked to him by the parallel organization, [Dündar] joined the actions of the organisation members who searched the trucks and plotted with fabricated evidence to create a perception in the scope of a planned setup as if the Republic of Turkey has been helping terrorist organisations,” the complaint said.
The International Press Institute (IPI) and its affiliate, the South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO), condemned Erdoğan on June 2 over what they described as a “disturbing lack of respect for the principles of media freedom and democracy” in Turkey ahead of the June 7 general elections.
“If Turkey’s voters can’t have the information they need to hold their elected leaders accountable, if they aren’t allowed make an informed decision about their future, then what’s the point of holding an election?” IPI Director of Advocacy and Communications Steven M. Ellis asked in the statement.
“Reporting that apparently shows a politician saying one thing and then doing another is absolutely in the public interest and the Turkish public has a right to know what their leaders are doing in their name, especially as they go to the polls,” he added.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) slammed Erdoğan in a statement on June 1.
“We call on Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop bullying journalists and news outlets such as Can Dündar and Cumhuriyet just because he doesn’t like what they report,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said.
“For the very first time, a president is openly threatening a journalist because he exposed a lie. This shows Erdoğan’s impotence. In fact, it is he who should apologise to the people because he deceived and lied to them,” main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said June 1.