Geopolitics

No Assassin, Nor Erdogan, Will Silence Us — Can Dundar Recounts Shooting

The Turkish editor and a lonely press critic of President Erdogan was the target of a gunman who screamed "traitor" before firing outside an Istanbul courthouse. Dundar tells of his wife's courage and his own determination to speak truth

Can and Dilek Dundar just after the attack
Can and Dilek Dundar just after the attack
Cumhuriyet handout
Can Dundar

Can Dündar is the editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet. Together with Erdem Gul, the newspaper's Ankara bureau chief, Dundar has already served prison time for charges linked to his journalism. On Friday, the pair was again convicted on charges of revealing state secrets. But even more shocking, a gunman tried to kill Dundar outside the courthouse. Here is his first reaction:

ISTANBUL â€" What a day. We'd left the courthouse to have tea after the court took a few hours break before the verdict. I was with my wife Dilek and CHP (Republican People's Party) Parliamentary Deputy Muharrem Erkek.

As we exited the building from Door C, we met Turkish NTV correspondent Yagiz Senkal, who asked what had happened. I told him the court had just been adjourned.

At the stairs, journalist friends and cameramen were waiting. I walked through the scrum of cameras to give an update to the press, while Dilek and Mr. Erkek stepped off to the side.

At the moment that the photographers and camera operators started to approach me, I heard someone behind them shouting: “You are a traitor!”

I saw a hateful face from a few meters away, a face of the new generation.

Then there were gunshots. The smell of gunpowder in the air. As a reflex action, I dashed towards Yagiz, where the metal barriers were. “You are the target," Yagiz was shouting. "Get away.”

When I stared back from a few meters away, I saw more men with guns. In the heat of the moment, I couIdn't tell whether they were policemen or more attackers. It was then that I noticed Dilek: She was holding the attacker, pulling on him from his jacket.

Muharrem Erkek was holding the man around the throat while his other hand was on the attacker's hand.

I saw the man throw his weapon on the ground. A bodyguard pulled me brusquely at my arm when I tried to go towards them. Then Dilek came next to me.

All of what I just recounted took no more than 30 seconds.

The journalists rushed toward me and asked: “Are you shot?” I checked my body. No, I was okay despite the close range of the shooter. I didn't yet know that Yagiz had been wounded in the leg.

No braver woman

Dilek told me the details. And it is she who deserves the title hero that some people try to place on me.

There is no braver woman than my wife. She is the one who always rushes first to check when there is a suspicious noise in the house. If she hears something unusual at the door, she approaches it as if a trained special agent.

She told me how Erkek had hit the man in the mouth by reflex, and how the two of them held on to him, grabbing his jacket. She described what happened like she might have recounted a scene from an action movie she has just watched.

It is thanks to my wife and Muharrem Erkek's bravery that I am writing these words.

As for the attacker? Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared that the man “will pay a heavy price." But has the Turkish president no shame that he has made a target out of a journalist doing his job? Is he glad that he has laid the groundwork for this shooting by attacking me at political rallies as a “spy” and labeled me a “traitor?”

And yet, neither the threats of the president, nor the bullets of his volunteer hitmen, nor court convictions â€" none of this would be enough to intimidate us and scare us from doing our work.

This newspaper has come this far by paying those prices, sacrificing lives. None of it has ever stopped us from continuing our struggle. We won't stop now. We won't be silent.

Even if everybody else grows too scared and intimidated, we will continue to write, say and point the finger at injustice with even greater determination, courage and faith than ever before. Onward until this regime of bullies ends up in the junkyard of history with all their hired pens, gangs and hitmen.

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Geopolitics

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.


But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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