An assailant attempted to shoot a prominent Turkish journalist on Friday outside an Istanbul courthouse as he awaited the verdict in his trial on charges of revealing state secrets. The man shouted “traitor” before firing at least two shots in quick succession at Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the opposition Cumhuriyet daily, whose case has been cited by critics of President Tayyip Erdogan as indicative of a crackdown on media.
Dundar was unharmed but a reporter covering his trial appeared to have been wounded.
A Reuters witness said the assailant was detained by police. Before the shooting, he had approached a crew of reporters in front of the courthouse, saying he had been waiting there since early morning and hoped Dundar would be found guilty. His motives and background were not immediately clear.
“This is the result of provocation,” Dundar said moments after the shooting. “If you turn someone into so much of a target, this is what happens.”
Dundar and Erdem Gul, the newspaper’s Ankara bureau chief, could face life in jail on espionage charges and attempting to topple the government for publishing footage purporting to show the state intelligence agency taking weapons into Syria in 2014.
President Erdogan, who joined the trial as a complainant, had accused the men of undermining Turkey’s international reputation and vowed Dundar would “pay a heavy price”, raising opposition concerns about the fairness of any trial.
The case has drawn international criticism of the rights record of a NATO member and EU candidate nation currently battling Kurdish insurgency and the spillover of violence from war in Syria.
“JOURNALISM ON TRIAL”
Under the ruling AK Party, which was founded by Erdogan, Turkey has seized control of opposition newspapers and broadcasters and cut the satellite feed of a pro-Kurdish channel, accusing them of terrorism-related activities.
The journalists’ lawyers said the prosecutor had not pressed an espionage charge, but nonetheless called for Dundar to be jailed for 25 years for procuring and revealing state secrets and for Gul to be jailed for 10 years for publishing them.
“We are now on trial for our story: for acquiring and publishing state secrets,” Dundar told Reuters during a court recess, before the shooting. “This confirms journalism is on trial, making our defence easier and a conviction harder.”
Erdogan has acknowledged that the trucks, which were stopped by gendarmerie and police officers en route to the Syrian border in January 2014, belonged to the National Intelligence Organisation and said they were carrying aid to Turkmen battling both Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamic State.
“This case isn’t based on law, it’s political,” said Mahmut Tanal, a lawmaker from the opposition Republican People’s Party.
Gul and Dundar spent 92 days in jail, almost half of it in solitary confinement, before the constitutional court ruled in February that pre-trial detention was unfounded because the charges stemmed from their journalism.
Erdogan said he did not respect that ruling.
Journalists have been targeted in the past. Last month senior Turkish security officials were among 34 defendants put on trial accused of links to the murder of a prominent Armenian journalist, Hrant Dink, a decade ago.
Dink, who ran a newspaper serving Turkey’s 60,000 Christian Armenians, was gunned down in broad daylight on a busy Istanbul street in 2007. (Reporting by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by David Dolan and Ralph Boulton)