Turkish journalist Can Dundar: Erdogan’s opponents ‘at risk everywhere in the world’

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Dundar believes that the Turkish president is looking for revenge on his critics. In an interview with DW in Berlin, the former editor of Cumhuriyet said there was almost no opposition voice left in the Turkish media.

In an interview with DW, former editor-in-chief of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, Can Dundar

outlined a series of security and media freedom concerns:

DW: Mr. Dundar, the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan says you’re a traitor, you’re a spy, and even a terrorist. Your response?

Dundar: My response is he’s a liar. Because there are no journalists in jail on terrorist charges. They are all convicted or accused of leaking state secrets, writing against the government, being critical about the government’s policies, etc.. So they are just journalists, not terrorists. But calling that kind of thing terrorism is a kind of traditional attitude of this government, unfortunately.

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DW: There are reports that your personal security has become an issue since the recent visit to Germany by Erdogan, what can you tell us about that?

Dundar: I’m afraid it’s not only me but all of Erdogan’s opponents who are at risk everywhere in the world… because everybody watched the press conference and you can easily see how angry he is against journalists who are critical of him. He’s looking for revenge and that’s why of course you have to be careful when your are challenging him. There is almost no opposition left in Turkey in the media sector. So that’s why he is trying to punish the journalists outside Turkey just to send the message to the others that he can find you everywhere. So we are of course keeping on struggling but of course we have to be careful about the security issue.

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DW: But after what happened at that press conference, do you feel more at risk now?

Dundar: Of course. Imagine a president is coming to a country and blaming a journalist for being a spy or a terrorist. What would you expect? There are a lot of people who want to be a hero in the eyes of Erdogan or his government by punishing the journalists. And we have experienced this in Turkey. Just in front of the court house, I was attacked by a gunman and he was freed last week without any punishment. So it’s a kind of encouragement if you are not punishing a guy who is shooting at a journalist. That’s a kind of encouragement, of course.

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DW: Your wife still lives in Turkey, are you concerned about her safety?

Dundar: Yeah, of course. I mean she is like a hostage. Erdogan is keeping her in Turkey, without any reason, just to punish me. And of course as with everybody her life is also at risk. This is the unlawfulness that we are trying to explain to the world: That there is no rule of law, no justice system in Turkey anymore and under these circumstances you can do nothing but struggle.

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DW: You’re living here in exile in Germany. Do you think the German government is dealing with the increasingly authoritarion Erdogan in the right way? Was it right to offer him a state visit?

Dundar: As you know, from the beginning I have been criticising the German government for not doing enough and not saying enough against Turkey. But I guess during this visit they were much more vocal about the injustice system and the aggression of the Turkish government. The state visit was of course, a question. But you have to divide Erdogan from Turkey and you have to respect Turkey and the Turkish people while at the same time warning the Erdogan government for its crackdown against the media. That division is very important because you have to be side by side with the Turkish people who are fighting against Erdogan and not isolate them. This is a very difficult balance. But I guess this state visit idea was a gesture of respect to the Turkish people and in general the Turkish nation but at the same time they were brave enough to give the right messages to Erdogan.

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DW: Now you drew attention to many, many journalists in Turkey who are still incarcerated, who are in jail, how difficult is it for press freedom in the country? Are you in contact with some of your former colleagues?

Dundar: Of course. They are putting their lives at risk when they write and talk. And even today, one of my colleagues and a parliamentarian at the moment are in front of the judge, together with my wife. And for what? For a story we published in a newspaper, which was a true story. Nobody denied it. And we were accused of being helpful to a terrorist organisation. And ironically, we have been criticizing the government for aiding and abetting some Islamist guerrillas across the Syrian border. And for that we were accused of being terrorists or aiding the terrorist organizations. So it is a witch hunt against journalists in Turkey to suppress them, to stop them talking or writing. But thank God  we still have brave journalists to search for the truth.

DW: Can Dundar, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts with DW.

Interview by Kevin Lynch

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