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Exiled Turkish journalist, whose paper reported on arms sent to Syria, gets 27-year jail term for espionage and aid to terrorism

Exiled Turkish journalist, whose paper reported on arms sent to Syria, gets 27-year jail term for espionage and aid to terrorism
A Turkish journalist, whose newspaper reported on an alleged 2014 Turkish intelligence operation to supply arms to anti-government fighters in Syria, was sentenced in absentia to over 27 years in jail.

Can Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet, was found guilty by an Istanbul court of military espionage and providing material assistance to a terrorist group. He was given 18 years and nine months for publishing state secrets and eight years and nine months for supporting FETO, an organization that Ankara considers terrorist. This amounts to 27 years and six months in total and is less than the 35 years, which prosecutors asked for.

There is little chance that Dundar will see the inside of a Turkish prison anytime soon. He spent over 90 days in custody during his previous trial, but now lives in exile and was tried in absentia. In 2016, Dundar was sentenced to five years and ten months, but managed to leave Turkey as his appeal made it through the court system and has been living in Germany ever since. Berlin refused Turkish requests to extradite him.

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Both trials relate to Cumhuriyet’s 2015 publication of a video showing the search of military trucks loaded with weapons. The search was conducted by Turkish law enforcement a year earlier and exposed an apparent Turkish intelligence operation to supply Syrian rebels fighting against the government in Damascus. The video served as evidence that the truck convoy indeed carried weapons rather than some other cargo.

The case against Dundar alleged that he knowingly published footage that he knew was classified with the goal to hurt the Turkish government. The journalist was a vocal critic of Turkish President Recep Erdogan and a supporter of mass protests against him, which first erupted in 2013. Ankara believes that the demonstrations had been orchestrated by US-based cleric Fetullah Gulen and his organization, FETO, and that the same force was behind a failed attempt to overthrow Erdogan in the 2016 military coup.

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Turkish prosecutors alleged that Dundar, while not a FETO member, had released the footage to support its cause by painting the Erdogan government as supporters of international terrorism. The intended recipients of the shipment remain unclear, with the dominating theory being that the weapons were meant for the Free Syrian Army, which Ankara backs.

Some commenters from Cumhuriyet claimed that they were meant for the Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] the terrorist group that became a dominating force in Syria and Iraq over the course of 2014 and 2015.

The fugitive journalist’s defense team boycotted the delivery of the verdict in his case, saying they were not going to “legitimize” a process that they believe to be politically motivated. They previously unsuccessfully tried to replace the judges in the case. Dundar said the court’s ruling was a “pretense of justice” and pledged to continue to attack Erdogan with documentaries, books and media comments and let the future make its judgement on the Turkish leader.

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