Paris: The West “has abandoned Turkey” and let itself be blackmailed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over the issue of migration, prominent exiled Turkish journalist Can Dundar told AFP in an interview.
A leading figure in the battle for press freedom in Turkey, Dundar has been living for the past two years in exile in Germany.
The former editor-in-chief of the Turkish opposition daily Cumhuriyet spoke after meeting French President Emmanuel Macron along with a delegation from media rights group Reporters Without Frontiers.
Dundar was branded a “traitor” by Ankara for revealing in 2015 that the Turkish secret services had supplied arms to jihadists in Syria.
He said there was a climate of intimidation in Erdogan’s Turkey.
“There is a kind of cloud of fear over the country. Many people are arrested or jailed because of their tweets or writings, that’s why many people were so deeply affected by this and that’s why people are really scared of talking to each other.”
In the World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, Turkey ranked 157th out of a total 180 countries in 2018.
– ‘Simple tweet’ –
A “simple tweet” could land someone in prison, he complained.
“If you inform the government about your neighbour, you would be rewarded, and the opponents would be punished. So this system works very well nowadays in Turkey.”
Ankara denies all charges of press interference, insisting that the only journalists arrested are those linked to “terrorist organisations”.
Such groups include the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) or circles close to Fethullah Gulen, the US-based preacher whom Turkey blames for the attempted coup against Erdogan in 2016.
The West is “closing its eyes to Turkey. They let themselves be blackmailed by Erdogan and his threat to send over three million Syrian refugees”, Dundar said.
“We are defending so-called western values in Turkey like democracy, human rights, press freedom, securalism, equality of men and women and people are in jail because of this struggle,” he said.
He was originally sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison in 2015 for “revealing state secrets”.
The conviction was quashed by Turkey’s top appeals court. But in a hugely complex process, the court said that Dundar should be given a stiffer sentence of up to 20 years.
He left Turkey for Germany shortly after the initial verdict, saying he refused to put his under “under the guillotine”.
“My wife has not been able to leave Turkey. They seized her passport at the airport,” Dundar said.
“Erdogan is trying to stop me in my activities by using my wife. These are the methods of the mafia.”
Currently living in Berlin, which has a big Turkish community, Dundar is still working for Cumhuriyet and collaborating with the German weekly Die Zeit.
Turkey “was no paradise before Erdogan, but there was a huge opportunity for children there to learn about democracy,” he said.
“It could have become an example for the Muslim world”.