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Turkish journalist gets 27 years in absentia for espionage

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Turkish journalist Can Dundar was sentenced in absentia to 27 years and six months in prison for espionage and aiding an armed terrorist organization, his lawyers said on Wednesday, calling the verdict politically motivated.

Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Turkish daily newspaper Cumhuriyet, and a colleague, Erdem Gul, were both sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for publishing a video purporting to show Turkish intelligence trucking weapons into Syria. They were later released pending appeal.

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Now a resident of Germany, he had faced up to 35 years in jail for allegedly supporting terrorism and military or political espionage.

Dundar’s lawyers refused to attend the final hearing. “We do not want to be part of a practice to legitimize a previously decided, political verdict,” they said in a written statement ahead of the hearing.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticized the ruling as a “hard blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey” which he called a fundamental right.

“Journalism is not a crime but an indispensable service to society - even and especially when it looks critically ... on the fingers of those in power,” Maas told RedaktionsNetzwerk Deutschland.

Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, said on Twitter Dundar’s sentence does not violate freedom of expression. Writing in German, he said Turkey expects its partners to accept the court’s decision and extradite him.

For critics of President Tayyip Erdogan, Dundar has become a symbol of what they say is Turkey’s sweeping crackdown on press freedom, especially since a failed coup in 2016. The government says the courts are independent and that it is responding to threats facing the country.

The court earlier this month delayed its verdict after Dundar’s lawyers asked for the judges to be replaced to ensure a fair trial, a request that was rejected.

An Istanbul court had declared Dundar a fugitive and seized all his assets in Turkey.

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