Leipzig, 23 June, 2016. Turkish journalists Can Dündar and Erdem Gül will be awarded the 2016 Prize for the Freedom and Future of the Media, sponsored by the Sparkasse Leipzig Media Foundation. "This year's list of nominees included many journalists and media organisations that make great and honest efforts to defend freedom of speech in their home countries or even in a cross-border context," explains Stephan Seeger, Managing Director of the Media Foundation. "With the joint award for Can Dündar and Erdem Gül we honour two journalists who represent many of their colleagues in Turkey and elsewhere: They pursue their journalistic profession in an independent and unbiased manner - despite politically motivated persecution, threats of imprisonment or dangers to life and limb. The fact that four Turkish journalists (Ahmed Altan, Nedim Şener, Can Dündar and Erdem Gül) have been awarded our prize in recent years, is a sign of the state of press freedom in Turkey," Seeger continues. The award is worth 30,000 euros and will be bestowed in two equal halves to both journalists. Can Dündar and Erdem Gül intend to accept the prize and will receive it at the award ceremony on 7 October 2016 in Leipzig (unless they are prevented from taking part in the ceremony).
Justifying the fact that this year's laureates will also be from Turkey following the bestowals of recent years, Seeger says: "The jury's decision shows that the threat to press freedom in Turkey is regarded as an intrinsic feature of the political system, which suppresses the pluralistic formation of opinion, in turn endangering the work and lives of journalists. Can Dündar and Erdem Gül, two outstanding and renowned journalists, have been living with these threats for years, most recently as chief editor and Ankara correspondent of Cumhuriyet newspaper respectively." The jury is deeply worried by this development in a country which is such an important partner for Europe.
The European Centre for Press and Media Freedom (ECPMF) confirms the jury’s view in general and also its specific decision regarding Dündar and Gül. At the beginning of the trial in Istanbul, Michelle Trimborn was present as a representative of the Centre to meet the journalists personally and to support the fight for their rights. The ECPMF actively supports them and other threatened journalists in Turkey. Dündar and Gül became targets of the state due to a report they had published together on alleged Turkish arms supplies to extremists in Syria. The reaction to their work was not a public investigation of the press reports but instead the legal prosecution of the journalists and charges of espionage and aiding terrorists, backed by President Erdogan as joint plaintiff. Their - as yet not legally valid - sentence of May 2016 raises reasonable doubt as to the Turkish judicial authorities' willingness to defend the freedom of the press. The award for Can Dündar and Erdem Gül is therefore also a sign of solidarity with them, their families and all the journalists who are suffering from state repressions in Turkey today.
About the laureates
Can Dündar, born in Ankara (Turkey) in 1961, studied journalism at the Faculty of Political Science of Ankara University (until 1982) and at the London School of Journalism (until 1986), received his master's degree in 1988 and his PhD in Political Science from the Technical University of the Near East in Ankara in 1996. After that he worked for several newspapers and TV stations, including the public TRT from 1988 as well as for private channels such as CNN Türk and NTV. He worked as a columnist for the newspaper Milliyet for many years, where he was fired with immediate effect in 2013, probably due to critical columns on the protests in connection with Istanbul’s Gezi Park. Then he worked for Cumhurriyet and became editor-in-chief of the newspaper in early 2015. In May 2014 he published material on alleged entanglements of the Turkish state in the Syrian civil war together with the head of the newspaper’s Ankara office, Erdem Gül.
Erdem Gül, born in the Turkish city of Giresun in 1967, studied journalism at the Gazi University in Ankara. In 1992 he began his professional career at the Turkish news agency Anka. In 2010 he became Cumhurriyet’s parliamentary correspondent, and since 2013 he was head of the newspaper’s Ankara office. In the Cumhurriyet trial concerning the reporting of a secret Turkish military transport operation to Syria, Erdem Gül was the main defendant. He was sentenced to five years in prison. This sentence is not yet legally valid either.
Both journalists were arrested in November 2015. However, the Constitutional Court of Turkey declared the provisional custody as unlawful in February 2016. The trial began on 25 March, 2016, with the accusation of knowingly and intentionally aiding an armed terror organisation and espionage of state secrets. While Dündar was awaiting sentencing on 6 May, 2016, he was attacked and shot. Dündar was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison for publishing state secrets, while Gül was sentenced to five years. Neither sentence is yet legally valid.
About the award
Each year since 2001, the Sparkasse Leipzig Media Foundation has awarded the "Prize for the Freedom and the Future of the Media" in order to honour journalists, publishers, and institutions that have demonstrated great personal commitment to ensuring the freedom and the future of the media. The award is also intended to commemorate the Peaceful Revolution in Leipzig on 9 October 1989, during which protesters demanded "free press for a free country".