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Turkish Journalist Shot At Before His Sentencing In State Secrets Case

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The top editor of one of Turkey's oldest newspapers is facing more than five years behind bars on charges of revealing state secrets. Just before he entered the court in Istanbul, he was attacked by a gunman. He survived and is out on appeal. We reached Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of the daily Cumhuriyet in Istanbul. Welcome to the program.

CAN DUNDAR: Thank you very much.

MONTAGNE: Let me first of all say that you were shot at a week ago outside the courtroom. But you're OK, am I right?

DUNDAR: Yeah, I'm OK. I mean, they couldn't shoot me, but they fired over me, so I'm still alive, (laughter) thanks God.

MONTAGNE: Let me, for an American audience, back up here. A year ago, you and another journalist, a colleague Erdem Gul, were accused of trying to topple Turkey's government. Describe for us how that accusation came about.

DUNDAR: Well, in fact, it was a news story we published in our paper, Cumhuriyet. It was about one truck trafficking arms through Syria. We were accused of spying, revealing the state secrets and toppling the government by that and being a member in a terrorist organization. So they asked two life sentences for us. And in the end, they gave us five years imprisonment.

MONTAGNE: So the government did not deny that your images were accurate...

DUNDAR: No.

MONTAGNE: ...That they were trucks, they did have arms and they were headed for Syria and they were intelligence agency trucks.

DUNDAR: That's right. Everything was correct. The only thing is they call it state secret, which we didn't know at that time. And we shouldn't have known, I mean, as a journalist. I mean, it was their responsibility to keep it secret. So our responsibility as a journalist was to reveal it, I mean, because the state was doing something wrong. And we gave the example of Watergate, Irangate and WikiLeaks.

MONTAGNE: And WikiLeaks. This also comes at a time when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is cracking down on the press.

DUNDAR: That's right. I mean, he's been the most oppressive statesmen over the media in Turkey's history, I guess. Today, for example, there are 33 journalists in Turkish prisons, which makes Turkey the worst among the other countries. And this is a big, open jail for journalists.

MONTAGNE: A couple of days ago, your attacker was arrested. What, if anything, do you know about him and his motive?

DUNDAR: Well, I don't know really. I'm not sure about these details, but he shouted at me as traitor. This is the word that president called me before. So this must be the motivation of the attacker. He was encouraged by threats by the government.

MONTAGNE: Five years, 10 months in jail - that's what you're facing. You went to the constitutional court there in Turkey. Are you hopeful that you will not end up serving this time in prison?

DUNDAR: I'm hopeful because we kept arrested for 3 months. And we were in solitary confinement. And constitutional court decided that our action is not an act of terrorism, but an act of journalism.

MONTAGNE: That is Can Dundar, editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet newspaper Istanbul, Turkey. Thank you very much for joining us.

DUNDAR: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.