By Claire Bernish | The Anti Media
(ANTIMEDIA) Istanbul, Turkey — Just over a week after Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief, Can Dündar, represented the Turkish daily news outlet in receiving a press freedom award, he and another top editor were arrested and jailed on charges of espionage. In question was a controversial article exposing arms shipments from Turkish intelligence to Syrian extremist rebels.
“We have been arrested,” tweeted Dündar on Thursday. “Don’t worry, these are medals of honor for us.”
He explained further: “We are accused of ‘spying.’ The president said ‘treason.’ We are not traitors, spy [sic], or heroes; we are journalists. What we have done here is an act of journalism,” said Dündar before testifying on Thursday. “Of course, this prosecution will help enlighten how these incidents took place, rather than how we covered this story.”
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Now a third Turkish journalist has been arrested, according to local reports. Ertuğrul Özkök, a reporter for Turkish daily Hüriyet, has been arrested for a slanderous criticism of who is presumed to be Erdoğan — even though the president wasn’t explicitly named anywhere in Özkök’s article. As if more evidence of Turkey’s quashing free press and free speech were needed, Özkök potentially faces five years and four months in prison for expressing this opinion.
Dündar and Ankara correspondent, Erdem Gül, if found guilty on charges of spying, as well as aiding a terrorist organization, could spend the rest of their lives in a Turkish prison — for doing their job. There is a painfully ironic undercurrent in the charges considering the subject of the article is the Erdoğan administration’s complicity in arming Syrian extremists (read:terrorists).
Erdoğan himself sued Dündar and accused Cumhuriyet of releasing false information and spying when the story first exploded, stating at the time the journalist responsible would “pay a heavy price,” as the Wall Street Journal reported.
Despite Cunhuriyet’s recent honor from Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF, or Reporters Without Borders), under the paranoid, watchful eye of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, journalists — and dissenters — have faced sweeping general censorship. Dündar and Gül might be the most prominent recent examples of Erdoğan’s attempt to keep “state secrets” concealed from public scrutiny, but they’re not the first journalists to poke this particular sore spot.
In fact, the last time a reporter tried to expose Turkey’s complicity in arming Syrian extremists, she met an untimely and as-yet unexplained death under seriously suspicious circumstances that remain inscrutable to this day — even to her own family.
PressTV reporter Serena Shim, a U.S. citizen, had been investigating the flow of anti-Assad militants and weapons from Turkey’s border region into northwestern Syria amidst heavy fighting near the town of Kobanî. During this time, she attracted the attention of Turkish Intelligence (MiT — Millî İstihbarat Teşkilatı). Though locals knew her and the integrity of her reporting, MiT proceeded to question them and requested her whereabouts — under the unfounded guise Shim had been acting as a spy.
In reality, Shim had “uncovered evidence of secret Western assistance to the Islamic State” — a particularly touchy subject for Erdoğan, as seen in the arrests of Dünbar and Gül. Her video evidence of this assistance — reportedly “proof of Islamic State terrorists using United Nations World Food Program vehicles for a convoy” into Syria, likely akin to Dünbar and Gül’s discovery — has never been recovered. Her passport and wedding ring, seized by Turkish authorities sometime after her death, have never been returned to her family.
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Serena Shim and her cousin, cameraperson Judy Irish, unlike the arguably more fortunate Dünbar and Gül, were ostensibly “hit by a truck after turning into the opposite lane on a highway access road,” as reported in wtfrly.com. Shim was killed, though discrepancies are plentiful in official reports, including whether she died at the scene or an hour later from heart failure in the hospital. Shim and Irish were inexplicably taken to hospitals over 25 miles apart from each other by Turkish military officials, not police, who ‘investigated’ the wreck. After outrage from Shim’s family, Turkish authorities — who first claimed they were unable to locate the vehicle responsible for hitting Shim and Irish — eventually produced photos of the accident, which they then claimed had been caused by a cement truck driver.
Shim’s family has yet to receive answers from either Turkish or U.S. authorities about her dubious demise. On October 20, 2014, Marie Harf of the State Department took questions from the press on a number of subjects, including rumors surrounding Shim’s death. According to the transcript:
QUESTION: Does the U.S. have any comment on reports the death of U.S. citizen Serena Shim in Turkey may be more than just a car crash, following her reports that ISIS militants are being smuggled across the Syrian border