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Exiled Turkish journalist Can Dündar threatened with Interpol red notice

Turkish journalist Can Dündar (L) reacts before being made a Paris citizen of honour by mayor Anne Hidalgo (R) at the Paris town hall, France, 8 November 2016
Turkish journalist Can Dündar (L) reacts before being made a Paris citizen of honour by mayor Anne Hidalgo (R) at the Paris town hall, France, 8 November 2016

REUTERS/Charles Platiau

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 29 September 2017.

A prosecutor in Diyarbakır, in southeastern Turkey, yesterday asked the country's justice minister to obtain an Interpol "red notice" for the arrest of Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist now in exile in Germany, on a charge of propaganda for the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). In response to this development, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reiterates its call for an urgent overhaul of Interpol because of the growing tendency for it to be exploited by repressive governments such as Turkey's.

The red notice request came just one day after Dündar, the former editor of the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. He decided to stay in Germany in 2016 after being prosecuted on charges of "divulging state secrets for espionage purposes" and "assisting a terrorist organization."

The new PKK propaganda charge is based on a speech he gave in Diyarbakır on 24 April 2016 in which he criticized the harassment of critical journalists and accused pro-government journalists of being accomplices to war crimes by supporting the government's military operations in Turkey's Kurdish provinces.

The grounds given by the Diyarbakır prosecutor's office for seeking the Interpol red notice was its inability to question Dündar in connection with this charge.

"There is an urgent need for reforms at Interpol, especially as regards the 'red notices' that are too often used by governments to hunt down political opponents abroad," RSF editor in chief Virginie Dangles said.

"Interpol must not be coopted into assisting the Turkish government's attempts to extend its persecution beyond its borders. And the Turkish authorities must stop hounding Can Dündar, a leading figure in the fight for media freedom, and all the other journalists who have been unjustly prosecuted."

The number of Interpol red notices has grown almost five-fold in the past decade, from 2,804 in 2006 to 12,878 in 2016, prompting criticism from civil society groups that has finally received some attention.

Interpol began reinforcing its appeal mechanism in 2015 but much remains to be done, both as regards putting the reforms into practice and providing better filtering of requests from repressive states.

This was stressed in an April 2017 resolution by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which called on Interpol "to continue improving its red notice procedure in order to prevent and redress abuses even more effectively."

After spending nearly 100 days in detention in late 2015 and early 2016, Dündar was sentenced to five years and ten months in prison in May 2016 (along with fellow Cumhuriyet journalist Erdem Gül) on the charge of "divulging state secrets." The court let him remain free pending the outcome of his appeal, but he was the target of a murder attempt as he left the courthouse.

Dündar fled the country immediately after the July 2016 coup attempt, which triggered an unprecedented purge against critical media outlets. He and Gül are still also being prosecuted on a charge of collaborating and supporting "the FETÖ terrorist organization" (the Gülen Movement). The next hearing in the case is scheduled for 4 October.

Turkey is ranked 155th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

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