Can Dündar, Former Editor of Cumhuriyet, Turkey HARDtalk


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Can Dündar, Former Editor of Cumhuriyet, Turkey

Stephen Sackur talks to Can Dündar, who has experienced imprisonment, violence and exile after publishing material which infuriated the Turkish president.


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Now on BBC News,

it's time for HARDtalk.

0:00:010:00:05

Welcome to HARDtalk.

0:00:090:00:10

I'm Stephen Sackur.

0:00:100:00:17

More than 150 journalists are

currently imprisoned in Turkey.

0:00:170:00:23

President Erdogan government stands

accused of an all-out assault on

0:00:230:00:26

freedom of expression. My guest

today is Can Dundar who as

0:00:260:00:32

experienced imprisonment,

life-threatening violence and ex-

0:00:320:00:38

owl in the last couple of years,

after publishing material which

0:00:380:00:42

infuriated the Turkish president. In

the battle for Turkish future and

0:00:420:00:48

its soul, who is a winning?

0:00:480:00:52

Can Dundar, welcome to HARDtalk.

0:01:130:01:14

Thank you.

0:01:140:01:16

You live in Germany,

you would like to live in Turkey

0:01:160:01:19

but it's not possible.

0:01:190:01:21

Do you feel a sense of freedom

in Germany that you could not enjoy

0:01:210:01:26

in your last period inside Turkey?

0:01:270:01:32

You can't really feel as a free man

while your friends are in jail,

0:01:320:01:38

your family is under,

you know, away from you and,

0:01:380:01:42

at the same time, you are threatened

by a very despotic government.

0:01:420:01:51

If you are seen as a threat

by the government,

0:01:510:01:54

you can't be free, feel free

everywhere in the world,

0:01:540:01:57

nowhere in the world.

0:01:570:01:59

Do you have security right now?

0:01:590:02:01

Of course, part of your story over

the last couple of years is not just

0:02:010:02:05

arrest and imprisonment but also

there was an attempt on your life.

0:02:050:02:09

Do you feel secure in Germany?

0:02:090:02:12

Not really.

0:02:120:02:14

Because Turkish intelligence

is so active in Germany

0:02:140:02:16

and there are a lot

of pro-government people,

0:02:170:02:19

pro-Erdogan people

living in Germany,

0:02:190:02:22

and that's why there

is a huge campaign against me

0:02:220:02:25

by the Turkish government,

that's why it's a kind of...

0:02:260:02:32

Um, it's not the safest place

in the world, Germany...

0:02:320:02:35

Do you have security?

0:02:350:02:36

Yeah, I do have security.

0:02:360:02:39

If I do something in public,

they come and protect me.

0:02:390:02:42

I suppose your story is very much

about your relationship

0:02:420:02:45

with President Erdogan,

and the two of you have known

0:02:450:02:50

of each other for an awful

long time and, indeed,

0:02:510:02:53

I am interested to go back

in time to the early 2000s,

0:02:530:02:57

when you wrote about Erdogan

in a pretty favourable manner.

0:02:570:03:00

You described yourself as

"cautiously optimistic" about him.

0:03:000:03:02

You said that "here is a man

who stands up to the military".

0:03:020:03:06

Do you think, in retrospect, that

you totally misunderstood the man?

0:03:060:03:10

I guess he was pretending

like he was a democrat all those

0:03:100:03:15

years and he had a plan

from the beginning and he convinced

0:03:150:03:18

many Turkish liberals,

together with Western governments

0:03:180:03:22

that he's a democrat and he's trying

to get the Turkish army bac

0:03:220:03:30

that he's a democrat and he's trying

to get the Turkish army back

0:03:300:03:33

to the barracks again,

and we were also critical

0:03:340:03:36

about the Turkish army

being so involved in Turkish

0:03:360:03:38

politics that's why someone

who was promising to get the army

0:03:380:03:41

back to the barracks was, you know,

we should give him a chance

0:03:410:03:45

but we knew that he was not

a democrat because he said already

0:03:450:03:48

during...as as a governor

of Istanbul, back to 1996,

0:03:480:03:56

he said democracy is not my main

aim, it is just a tool to get me

0:03:560:04:05

to the main aim.

0:04:050:04:17

Let's get to the unfolding of events

in more recent times.

0:04:170:04:20

You knew that, as the century

proceded, we got to 2010,

0:04:200:04:23

2012, that Erdogan was showing

a much more authoritarian streak

0:04:230:04:25

in his rule.

0:04:250:04:26

But you took some rash decisions.

0:04:260:04:28

I mean, for example,

when you became editor in chief

0:04:280:04:31

of Cumhuriyet, you must have known

that breaking this story in 2015

0:04:310:04:35

about the Turkish government

smuggling arms over the border

0:04:350:04:37

to rebels in Syria, you must have

known that running that story

0:04:370:04:44

would put an enormous strain,

to say the least,

0:04:440:04:46

on your relationship

with the government?

0:04:460:04:48

Of course, we knew it.

0:04:480:04:50

In a way, we were expecting it.

0:04:500:04:54

Because, as a journalist, of course,

you must be realistic about this

0:04:540:04:57

but what would you do?

0:04:570:05:02

I mean, you have a story,

which is true,

0:05:020:05:05

your government is doing

something illegal

0:05:050:05:07

and hiding it and naming it as state

secrets and you are a journalist,

0:05:070:05:18

and you are a journalist,

0:05:180:05:19

this is your duty...

0:05:190:05:20

Well, it was a state secret,

clearly it was a state secret,

0:05:200:05:23

it it was a covert operation,

nobody was supposed to do about it.

0:05:230:05:27

That is the point

of covert operations.

0:05:270:05:28

It was Turkey's Iran gate.

0:05:290:05:30

It was Turkey's Irangate.

0:05:300:05:31

In a way, it was not a state secret

it was the secret of Erdogan

0:05:310:05:35

so he was trying to get involved

in the Syrian war in an illegal way.

0:05:350:05:39

Well, put yourself in the shoes of

a journalist in a different country.

0:05:390:05:43

I mean, frankly, if a British

journalist had tried to dig deep

0:05:430:05:46

into the affairs of military

intelligence in the UK,

0:05:460:05:48

or the same thing in

the United States,

0:05:480:05:51

they would have run

into serious trouble.

0:05:510:05:52

We have something called

the Official Secrets Act.

0:05:530:05:55

Have you seen the film The Post?

0:05:550:05:56

I have seen the film The Post,

which concerns Vietnam

0:05:570:05:59

and the uncovering of

the Pentagon papers.

0:05:590:06:01

So they were right

to publish the story.

0:06:010:06:03

It's more or less

the same story with us,

0:06:030:06:06

with a very different

ending, unfortunately.

0:06:060:06:09

But, I mean, this is our duty

to inform the public

0:06:090:06:12

about this kind of danger.

0:06:120:06:14

Well, yes, but presumably as a Turk

you also have an obligation

0:06:140:06:18

and a duty to consider things

like putting

0:06:180:06:20

Turkish military personnel or others

at risk and you do know

0:06:200:06:23

that the Turkish government insisted

that what you had uncovered

0:06:230:06:27

was not gunrunning to rebels

but was actually the transfer of aid

0:06:270:06:30

and assistance to Turkmen civilians.

0:06:300:06:33

The Turkish government wanted

to help the Turkmen civilian

0:06:330:06:36

population inside Turkey.

0:06:360:06:37

That is what Mr Erdogan said.

0:06:370:06:38

That's what they said but

the Turkmen denied this allegation.

0:06:380:06:45

They said they did not get aid

from this and we knew that Turkey

0:06:450:06:49

had a very a close contact

with the Islamic guerrillas in Syria

0:06:490:06:52

and we were opposing it.

0:06:520:06:53

So that's what it was important.

0:06:530:06:55

But, again, to be fair

to the Turkish government,

0:06:550:06:57

you went through due process.

0:06:570:07:07

Erdogan we know

was furious with you.

0:07:070:07:10

He described what you did

as espionage and said,

0:07:100:07:12

"those who wrote that

will be punished"

0:07:120:07:14

but he did not do it himself.

0:07:140:07:16

He filed a complaint

and the courts took it up

0:07:160:07:19

and you were tried

in a court of law.

0:07:200:07:22

Exactly and, unfortunately,

the courts are all controlled

0:07:220:07:24

by himself...

0:07:240:07:25

That's your opinion.

0:07:250:07:31

Yeah, I mean, so when he ordered

a kind of complaint,

0:07:310:07:38

or defined me as a traitor or a spy,

no judge can, you know,

0:07:380:07:42

decide the other way.

0:07:420:07:47

You spent 92 days in prison

in the course of the legal process

0:07:470:07:53

before the actual conviction.

0:07:530:07:55

What were those 92 days like?

0:07:550:07:58

I was in solitary confinement.

0:07:580:08:03

In a way I was ready

because if you are a journalist

0:08:030:08:06

in Turkey, you must be ready

for any kind of insults,

0:08:060:08:09

imprisonment, harassment,

even being killed

0:08:100:08:16

so psychologically I felt ready.

0:08:160:08:21

Immediately I start working,

writing, and tried to give a voice

0:08:220:08:27

to the words that something

is going on in the country.

0:08:270:08:36

to the world that something

is going on in the country.

0:08:360:08:39

See that's what strikes me

about Turkey, it's complex

0:08:390:08:41

to make sense of the nature

of the authoritarianism

0:08:410:08:44

that we talk about in Turkey

because there you sit in prison,

0:08:440:08:47

Erdogan has declared

you an enemy of the State

0:08:470:08:50

and yet you are free to write,

you're free to express your opinion,

0:08:500:08:53

you can get that opinion

to the outside world.

0:08:530:08:55

I mean, this isn't exactly

North Korea, is it?

0:08:560:08:58

With our government it was

difficult, it was not easy to do it.

0:08:580:09:01

You can do everything in Turkey

but the price is high.

0:09:020:09:08

You must be brave enough to do it.

0:09:080:09:14

If you are ready to pay the price,

you are free to do it.

0:09:140:09:18

You are free to write,

you are free to talk

0:09:180:09:21

but the price is really high

so you can spend your whole

0:09:210:09:24

life in jail.

0:09:240:09:25

Well, that is a very interesting way

to put it the price is very high.

0:09:250:09:29

In the end you chose to avoid paying

some of that inevitable price by,

0:09:300:09:33

when you were released

on appeal, you fled.

0:09:330:09:36

You were invited to Germany

to receive a journalistic price

0:09:360:09:43

You were invited to Germany

to receive a journalistic prize

0:09:430:09:46

and you decided not to go back.

0:09:460:09:48

Partly true because after I was

released I spent five months

0:09:480:09:51

in Turkey, I got back to my job

again, but it was summer time

0:09:510:09:55

and I went on holiday

to Spain, in fact,

0:09:550:09:57

then this military coup attempt has

happened in Turkey,

0:09:570:10:00

then the rule of law was lifted.

0:10:000:10:08

And my lawyers advised me to stay

away from the country

0:10:090:10:11

for a while and that's why

I decided to stay in Germany.

0:10:120:10:17

Was it partly out of fear

because I referred earlier

0:10:170:10:19

to an attempt on your life.

0:10:200:10:21

A gunman approached you outside

the court one day and,

0:10:210:10:24

miraculously, you survived,

even though he tried to shoot

0:10:240:10:26

you at very close range.

0:10:260:10:28

But was it fear that drove you out

of Turkey in the end?

0:10:280:10:31

Of course, otherwise...

0:10:310:10:32

Being in jail doesn't matter,

you can stay in jail

0:10:320:10:35

for a while but if your life

is in danger, of course,

0:10:350:10:38

you should think twice.

0:10:380:10:41

It wasn't the Turkish

state though, was it?

0:10:410:10:44

There has been a legal proceedings

against the government

0:10:440:10:49

There has been a legal

proceedings against the gunman

0:10:490:10:52

and there is no connection,

it seems, between him and the state.

0:10:520:10:55

He said...

0:10:550:10:56

He said that he was inspired

by the accusations of the statesman

0:10:560:10:59

and he is free now,

with his passport in his pocket.

0:10:590:11:02

That clearly is a bitter

thing for you to swallow.

0:11:020:11:05

Of course, and my wife hasn't got

a passport but he has.

0:11:050:11:08

You talk about your wife, Dilek,

she is in Turkey she is not

0:11:080:11:11

free to travel.

0:11:110:11:12

She has been stopped

from visiting you in Germany.

0:11:120:11:15

Yes, she was stopped at the airport

without any accusation.

0:11:150:11:20

There is no accusation against her.

0:11:210:11:27

No investigation and she has done

nothing other than marry me...

0:11:270:11:30

How hard is that because you have no

prospect of going home.

0:11:300:11:34

She has no prospect

of leaving Turkey.

0:11:340:11:39

This is the price

I was talking about.

0:11:390:11:41

So this is part of the deal

and he loves taking hostages

0:11:410:11:44

and he tries to punish me by keeping

the family away from each other.

0:11:440:11:48

This is a strange word to use but do

you feel a sense of guilt

0:11:480:11:52

about your situation

because you are now in Germany,

0:11:520:11:55

you are here in the UK,

a play is being produced about some

0:11:550:12:00

of your experiences, you know,

you are something of a well-known

0:12:000:12:04

figure now in the Western media

and yet your wife is stuck in Turkey

0:12:040:12:08

but more than that,

many of your colleagues

0:12:080:12:10

on the Cumhuriyet newspaper

are facing more legal proceedings.

0:12:100:12:12

Many of them, I think 16 of them,

have been in prison since you got

0:12:130:12:17

out of the country.

0:12:170:12:18

They are 150 journalists

in all currently in prison,

0:12:180:12:20

thousands have lost their jobs -

do you feel awkward about being

0:12:200:12:23

outside of Turkey?

0:12:230:12:24

Yes of course.

0:12:240:12:32

If I was in Turkey and would be

in jail or in the cemetery so...

0:12:320:12:43

But I'm not silent, I am

still struggling for something.

0:12:430:12:47

I am still writing and talking

about my country and defending our

0:12:470:12:52

freedom, our democracy so I really

believe in the future so,

0:12:520:12:57

in Turkey, I wouldn't be so vocal

but now I have the opportunity

0:12:570:13:02

to talk to people in

the world about Turkey.

0:13:020:13:05

Yes, we interviewed

Mr Erdogan last year

0:13:050:13:13

on HARDtalk.

0:13:130:13:14

This is what he said

about the accusation that he has

0:13:140:13:18

repressed freedom of expression

systematically in his country.

0:13:180:13:23

He said, "no one is jailed

because of journalism.

0:13:230:13:32

Right now in Turkey there are many

opposition journalist can write

0:13:320:13:35

a lot of things, all kinds

of articles, all kinds of insults,

0:13:350:13:38

and they are still out

there and those who are in jail,

0:13:380:13:41

well, they are criminals.

0:13:410:13:42

They have no title as journalists."

0:13:420:13:44

Yes, exactly.

0:13:440:13:45

So I have been working

as a journalist for more than

0:13:450:13:51

35 years now and convicted

as a terrorist.

0:13:510:13:53

There are a lot of journalists

like me so in his eyes,

0:13:530:13:56

if you're criticising

the government, you are a terrorist

0:13:560:13:59

and that is why he won't accept,

he doesn't accept that there

0:13:590:14:02

are journalists in jail

because in his eyes they are not

0:14:030:14:05

journalists but they

are journalists.

0:14:060:14:10

They are my friends and my

colleagues and they have done

0:14:100:14:13

nothing but write and

criticise the government.

0:14:130:14:15

Explain to me how

Mr Erdogan is still,

0:14:150:14:18

according to the opinion polls,

by far the most popular

0:14:180:14:20

politician in Turkey.

0:14:200:14:22

Explain to me how it looks as though

he can expect to be in power

0:14:220:14:26

because of that popularity

until, perhaps, 2029.

0:14:260:14:33

The man dominates Turkey

despite all the things you say

0:14:340:14:36

about him, he is the man.

0:14:360:14:39

He is the man.

0:14:390:14:53

Imagine yourself in his shoe,

but the president when you're

0:14:530:14:55

determined to dominate

the government, the Parliament

0:14:550:14:57

the judiciary,

the media, businesses.

0:14:570:14:59

You are the Sultan, you're not

allowed to make a demonstration

0:14:590:15:02

against the government.

0:15:020:15:02

It must be so easy

to run such a country.

0:15:020:15:13

It must be so easy to run such a

country.

Is there not also a

0:15:130:15:20

question about you and your

colleagues in the secular liberal

0:15:200:15:25

progressive media? For all of your

bravery and courage, and I do not

0:15:250:15:32

belittle that in any way, you appear

to be out of touch with many of your

0:15:320:15:37

countrymen and women.

The question

should be the other way around, how

0:15:370:15:44

come, in these circumstances, half

of these people are still resisting

0:15:440:15:50

him in such a country under these

circumstances? Really, I mean, it is

0:15:500:15:56

very surprising for us to see 50% of

the people voted against him in the

0:15:560:16:02

last referendum. It is bravery.

What

about Fethullah Gulen and the

0:16:020:16:11

idea... Again, the Turkish state is

clear about this. The idea that

0:16:110:16:28

Gulen and his networks, and we saw

it manifested in the idea he was

0:16:280:16:32

behind the coup of 2015, he is

trying to undermine democracy and

0:16:320:16:35

they are trying to corrupt those

institutions.

I guess this is one of

0:16:350:16:39

the issues that I agree with him.

Are you a Gulenist?

I agree with

0:16:390:16:48

Erdogan. If someone is a Gulenist in

Turkey, number one is Erdogan.

0:16:480:17:03

Together, they run the country, for

years. And Gulen was in charge of

0:17:030:17:10

the theocracy, universities, media,

and the university system, and

0:17:100:17:16

Erdogan was in charge of the money.

We work reciting both of them. And

0:17:160:17:27

is now Erdogan says Gulen is not the

right guy to partner with.

He has to

0:17:270:17:31

do something. To quote the Turkish

Foreign Minister a few days ago, he

0:17:310:17:35

said we are going through a

necessary face to make sure Gulenist

0:17:350:17:42

members, including sleeper cells,

are removed from all positions of

0:17:420:17:45

power in the media, business, and

academia. It is a painful process,

0:17:450:17:48

he said, but we act within the law.

Ha, within the law. They inserted

0:17:480:17:56

them into the state. They made it.

And now the creator attacks the

0:17:560:18:07

creator. It is a Frankenstein story.

And now they are accusing us of

0:18:070:18:13

being Gulenists. Everyone opposing

the government nowadays is branded a

0:18:130:18:19

Gulenist. That is the thing. I have

nothing to do with them. The outside

0:18:190:18:23

world looks at this and sometimes

they are confused about what is

0:18:230:18:27

happening in Turkey. Would you say

you have been gravely disappointed

0:18:270:18:32

with the reaction of the EU, for

example, in these months, in terms

0:18:320:18:37

of what you want to see, isolation

and condemnation of Erdogan.

0:18:370:18:41

Definitely. I am so much deeply

disappointed by the institutes of

0:18:410:18:49

Western governments. That is due to

the refugee crisis, in fact...

They

0:18:490:18:56

need Mr Erdogan...

They do not want

to annoy him. They want someone to

0:18:560:19:01

take refugees in Turkey. They made a

dirty deal with Erdogan, and that

0:19:010:19:21

was they kept a closed eye to his

aggression and in turn he kept

0:19:210:19:25

refugees in Turkey.

You say a dirty

deal, others say practical politics.

0:19:250:19:28

To quote the former EU Commissioner,

he said at the end of last year, in

0:19:280:19:32

the midst of this negotiation, what

Turkey could do to stem the flow of

0:19:320:19:37

refugees into Europe, he said the EU

needs Turkey more than Turkey needs

0:19:370:19:40

the EU right now.

What principles?

What about democracy? We have been

0:19:400:19:47

fighting for so-called "Western

ideals" like equality for men and

0:19:470:19:54

women, democracy, and so on. To see

European leaders at the other side,

0:19:540:20:00

it is really disappointing. They

should be supporting democracy in

0:20:000:20:03

Turkey, but instead, umm, they just

ignored it.

You are in a difficult

0:20:030:20:11

position because on the one hand you

seem to be idling for the isolation

0:20:110:20:16

of Erdogan by the EU, and surely the

whole point of the position is that

0:20:160:20:21

you want bridges to be built between

the EU and Turkey. What messages are

0:20:210:20:27

sending if Turkey was completely

isolated?

Turkey is not akin to

0:20:270:20:33

Erdogan. Erdogan should be isolated,

Turkey should not. It is not only

0:20:330:20:39

Erdogan. The opponents, the freedom

fighters in Turkey, Democrats, and,

0:20:390:20:47

you know, 50% of Turkey.

You are

asking the EU to interfere in

0:20:470:20:52

Turkish internal affairs.

No, I do

not expect anything from the

0:20:520:20:57

European governments. Take British

artists trying to give a hand to

0:20:570:21:04

Turkish democracy by, you know,

playing something about Turkey. And

0:21:040:21:09

some publishing houses playing, you

know, publishing books about Turkey.

0:21:090:21:15

Accepting Turkish academics. And

trade unions, parties,

0:21:150:21:20

organisations, I am talking about

this. Do not isolate Turkey, make it

0:21:200:21:25

a member in this family.

That is a

very interesting point you are

0:21:250:21:30

making. I know you are here to work

in a play called "We Are Arrested",

0:21:300:21:38

based on a memoir you wrote in

prison. A Shakespeare company is

0:21:380:21:43

putting it on as a play in the UK.

How important is that sort of

0:21:430:21:47

cultural messaging, and reaching out

across the world for you today? Does

0:21:470:21:54

it make your life worth living?

Yeah. This is a lifelong experience.

0:21:540:22:00

It was a testimony, my book. I got a

call from the Royal Shakespeare

0:22:000:22:05

Company saying we just want to make

a play out of this.

Do you think it

0:22:050:22:10

will make a difference?

Of course.

It is a very important message. And

0:22:100:22:15

at the same time, it is a kind of

Anushka and for the aggressive

0:22:150:22:20

government saying that art is much

more valuable than your daily

0:22:200:22:23

politics. It will stay for years.

But what about Erdogan?

You wrote

0:22:230:22:32

that in prison, so there is no

doubting your determination to keep

0:22:320:22:37

talking and expressing yourself if

there. But surely at times you have

0:22:370:22:41

to think that your wife is still

stuck inside Turkey, you have other

0:22:410:22:45

family inside Turkey, are you in

anyway self censoring because you

0:22:450:22:51

are so concerned about them?

A very

important question. Umm, at least

0:22:510:22:59

you have to think twice what you are

writing and what you talk about. I

0:22:590:23:03

talk to my wife and she said OK,

talk about me, because this is our

0:23:030:23:13

struggle. But of course, this is the

logic of taking hostages. If your

0:23:130:23:18

friends are in jail, your family is

there, of course you have to think

0:23:180:23:22

twice. That is a kind of censorship.

Do you think you will ever be able

0:23:220:23:28

to live with your wife again?

Of

course. I am so hopeful about

0:23:280:23:32

Turkey's feature. And we are coming

to the end of this darkest dower. --

0:23:320:23:38

future. -- hour. Unfortunately,

Turkey is a missing...

How can you

0:23:380:23:47

say that with so much optimism as we

have discussed that Erdogan's grip

0:23:470:23:57

on your country is tighter than

ever.

But on the other hand, we have

0:23:570:24:01

half of the people resisting. And

just on Women's Day, streets were

0:24:010:24:12

full of women resisting even if it

is dangerous and risky for them.

0:24:120:24:15

This country will not surrender.

That is why I am so optimistic about

0:24:150:24:19

the country.

Can Dundar, thank you

for coming in HARDtalk.

Thank you

0:24:190:24:25

very much.

Thank you.

0:24:250:24:37

More than 150 journalists are currently in prison in Turkey. President Erdogan's government stands accused of an all-out assault on freedom of expression. Stephen Sackur talks to Can Dündar, former editor of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, who has experienced imprisonment, life threatening violence and exile in the last couple of years after publishing material which infuriated the Turkish president. In the battle for Turkey's future and its soul, who is winning?