In May 2016, the court sentenced Erdem Gül, journalist and head of the capital office of Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, to five years in prison. His colleague and editor in chief Can Dündar was condemned to five years and ten months. International media deemed the trial against the two government-critical journalists a “strike against Turkish freedom of press” and there was tremendous public attention from the outset.
A report in Cumhuriyet about Turkish arms shipments to Syrian extremists in 2015 formed the background for the accusations against Gül and Dündar. In November of the same year, both journalists were arrested on suspicion of “espionage” and “membership in a terrorist group”. In addition, they were accused of having disseminated state secrets. President Erdoğan personally reported the offence and was allowed as joint plaintiff with the Turkish secret service. The arrest of Dündar and Gül soon led to international criticism.
In February of 2016, both journalists were initially released on the grounds that their personal freedom and safety as well as the freedom of press had been violated. Erdoğan commented on the decision of the court by saying that he would neither acknowledge nor follow the instruction. In an interview with ZEIT, Dündar interpreted this as a signal to courts and an emblem of the governmental pressure exerted on them.
On 25th April, Dündar was sentenced to a fine of roughly 9000€ for offence against the president. In May, the court declared Dündar and Gül guilty of having distributed secret documents. During a recess, Dündar was attacked with a gun but the assassination failed and he survived unscathed. In an interview with the newspaper Die Welt, Gül equated the attempted assault with a message to government critics: “Do not report, otherwise you will experience the same!”.