Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan demanded life imprisonment for the editor of a newspaper that published images allegedly showing the Turkish intelligence agency smuggling weapons into Syria, local media reported Wednesday.
The Cumhuriyet newspaper published the article -- just days before Turkey's parliamentary election on June 7 -- alleging that the country's National Intelligence Organization (MIT) was helping to send weapons to war-torn Syria.
The May 29 news report showed trucks belonging to MIT being stopped by a prosecutor and police forces in the southern province of Adana, Hurriyet Daily News reported. Cumhuriyet reportedly said the photographs were taken in January 2014, but did not specify how they were acquired. Erdoğan has reportedly said that the trucks that were stopped that day were carrying aid for Turkmens in Syria.
Cumhuriyet, a paper that has long been critical of Erdoğan and his Justice and Development party (AKP) published an article, saying that its editor, Can Dündar, was facing charges that included “crimes against the government” and “providing information concerning national security,” Reuters reported Wednesday.
Reuters also reported in late May, citing a prosecutor and a court testimony, that the MIT had helped deliver small arms to Syrian territory controlled by Islamist rebels in 2013 and 2014. Turkey has officially maintained that it has no links to Syria’s rebels.
The Syrian government and other regional governments have accused Ankara of providing free reign to militants to cross the border into Syria en masse and contributing to the rise of the Islamic State group.
Erdoğan’s lawyer had filed the complaint against Dündar on Tuesday, claiming that the footage was falsified and that the editor had "joined the actions" of supporters of Erdoğan rival and cleric Fethullah Gülen, who left the country in 1999 after facing charges of organizing a coup.
"By publishing the fabricated footage and information that were leaked to him by the parallel organization, [Dündar] joined the actions of the organization members who searched the trucks and plotted with fabricated evidence to create a perception in the scope of a planned setup as if the Republic of Turkey has been helping terrorist organizations," the complaint read, according to Hurriyet Daily News.
Dündar had defended his paper’s actions on Monday. “We are journalists, not civil servants. Our duty is not to hide the dirty secrets of the state but to hold those accountable on behalf of the people,” he said, according to the International Press Institute.
Rights groups and international bodies have condemned Erdoğan’s recent crackdown on civil society and dissident media. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists' Coordinator Nina Ognianova said on Monday: "We call on Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stop bullying journalists and news outlets such as Can Dündar and Cumhuriyet just because he doesn't like what they report."