Daily Cumhuriyet editor-in-chief Dündar and Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were arrested on terrorism charges on Nov. 26 last year over a story on state-owned trucks purportedly carrying weapons to Syria that was published on daily Cumhuriyet in early 2014.
The trucks owned by the National Intelligence Agency (MİT), Turkey's state intelligence agency, were stopped and searched in the southern province of Hatay in January 2014, which had been highlighted on the daily's front page at the time. The story resulted in the imprisonment of the journalists over their reporting.
Dündar and Gül previously sent EU leaders a letter when the latter hammered out a deal with Turkey to ease the country's EU accession process in return for Turkey's help in stemming the refugee flow into Europe, saying, “We would also like to hope that your desire to end the crisis will not stand in the way of your sensitivity toward human rights and the freedom of the press and expression as fundamental values of the Western world.”
Here is the full text of Dündar's letter to Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi:
“Dear Prime Minister,
I wrote you a letter when I was arrested over a news story I reported on in late November.
You were set to talk to the Turkish prime minister on the situation of Syrian refugees at the time. You planned that Turkey would keep refugees on its own soil and not let them cross into Europe in exchange for 3 billion euros in aid the EU pledged to provide Turkey. The government in Ankara seemed glad with this bargain.
I asked you in my letter to not forget about Europe's core values with this ‘win-win' agreement.
Those values were democracy, human rights, rule of law and freedom that we all have been advocates of. All of them had been violated by the Erdoğan regime.
We hoped that the rapprochement between the EU and Turkey aroused by the refugee crisis would end this and bring Turkey toward democracy.
Ahead of the EU-Turkey leaders' summit in Brussels at the end of November, you said, ‘I take the letter the two Turkish journalists under arrest sent along with myself as my colleagues do.'
‘Human rights, democracy and the rule of law bear great importance for Italy while keeping the doors for dialogue with Turkey open' you stressed.
You may have guessed how paradoxical it was to hear these statements from a prison cell on our own as well as the disappointment when these priorities were not reflected in the declaration of the results of the summit.
Dear Prime Minister,
The main reason Turkey's democratic citizens back the rapprochement between the EU and Turkey is that Europe's criteria serve as an anchor for a modern, secular and contemporary Republic that was rooted in the reforms of Atatürk...
We are fully aware that this ideal cannot be sacrificed for a bargain.
If we have been isolated for 40 days in Turkey – which has been dubbed ‘the biggest prison for journalists' by international media outlets – it is because we stood with that awareness against the dragging of the country toward an authoritarian regime.
The reason for Erdoğan's fury is comprehensible when one recalls that the news story that resulted in our arrest documented the trucks owned by the Turkish intelligence agency that were carrying weapons to radical Islamist groups in Syria.
Today, part of the reason for the refugee crisis is the civil war in Syria, which was incited by the efforts of the West.
We are watching the efforts to ‘extinguish' the fire by those who started it.
Expressing this in the Turkish media is becoming harder every day as Erdoğan has seized a large portion of media outlets to strengthen his authoritarian prime ministry with the title ‘media emperor' hopelessly following the trail of his close friend, Berlusconi. Raids, beatings, threats, lawsuits and imprisonment await those who dare to [speak up].
There are still more journalists in Turkish prisons than there are in Syrian prisons.
Dear Prime Minister,
Even though the daily interests of Europe entail moves to ignore human rights violations for a while, we, no matter what, will always endorse the common values of humanity.
If humanity ever faces two options such as ‘refugees or freedoms' all three are bound to wilt.”