Dundar, who has contributed opinion columns to The Washington Post, left Turkey in 2016 and lives in exile in Germany. His lawyers refused to attend his sentencing hearing, saying in a statement that the court had not even given the “appearance of being impartial and independent.”
The 2015 arrests of Dundar and Erdem Gul, a colleague at Cumhuriyet, were part of a years-long crackdown on journalists and media organizations by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. The campaign accelerated after a failed coup attempt in 2016 and has left Turkey with a dwindling number of media outlets that feature opposition voices or stray from the government line.
Before Dundar’s arrest, Erdogan singled him out for criticism. “I should think that the person who makes this news as special news will pay a heavy price. I will not leave him as is,” Erdogan said in an interview with Turkey’s state broadcaster.
Dundar and Gul were convicted on espionage-related charges in May 2016. On the day of the verdict, Dundar was attacked by a gunman on the courthouse steps but was unharmed. An appeals court overturned the convictions and ordered retrials for both men. Gul was subsequently acquitted in June 2018, but Dundar was found guilty in absentia.
Tora Pekin, an attorney for Dundar, said in an interview that his client would appeal the latest verdict. “This all began with the president giving his word referring to this news article. We see that the president kept his promise. His promise is hanging somewhere in that courtroom.”
Wednesday’s sentencing came a day after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey must immediately release Selahattin Demirtas, a prominent Kurdish lawyer and former member of parliament who has been imprisoned and awaiting trial since November 2016.
Demirtas, the former leader of a pro-Kurdish opposition party, has been charged with terrorism-related offenses, which he has denied. In its decision, which is legally binding, the Grand Chamber of the European Court found that by keeping Demirtas in custody, Turkey had “pursued the ulterior motive of stifling pluralism and limiting freedom of political debate.”
“The applicant’s initial and continued pre-trial detention had not only deprived thousands of voters of representation in the National Assembly, but had also sent a dangerous message to the entire population, significantly reducing the scope of free democratic debate,” the decision said.
Erdogan, speaking Wednesday, dismissed the judgment as “political.”