Can Dündar, a Turkish journalist jailed and exiled for his reporting, addresses the 9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see quotes below, followed by full prepared remarks.

9th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy, Tuesday, February 21, 2017

On the family of human rights activists: 

“We are in a big family of freedom fighters from all over the world here, the family that knows the meaning of democracy and human rights by heart; the family that never surrenders under the heavy pressures of the oppressive governments; the family who has the courage to act by risking everything they have.”

“We should keep the spirit alive, keep the team together here and we should join our forces and stand up against aggression all over the world.”

On authoritarianism in Turkey: 

“We will talk about the return of authoritarianism. It cannot return to our land because it has never left the country.”

“Our democracy is 66 years old and has had 4 military interventions during this time. And now we are having a civil intervention.”

“If the coup had succeeded, we would have a military government right now. But instead we have a police state. The coup was a gift of God for Erdogan. . . Under these circumstances, he decided to change the parliamentary regime to a one man system.”

“If he wins, he will have power to get rid of parliament, declare a state of emergency, control the judiciary. . .”

On the persecution of human rights defenders in Turkey:

I spent 3 months in prison, released by the decision of the Constitutional Court, saying that what we’ve done was not an act of terrorism but an act of journalism. I was attacked in front of the courthouse at the decision day, but I survived thanks to the braveness of my wife who jumped on the attacker and saved my life.”

“On the 16th of April, we will decide, we will have the most important referendum in our history, and we will decide between democracy and dictatorship. And some of the people who dare to say ‘NO’ to dictatorship are in jail now.”

On Europe-Turkey relations: 

We were kept waiting 66 years to be a member in the European family. Finally, people were fed up with waiting and turned their back on European dream.”

“Turkey has lost a European perspective; Europe has lost Turkey as the only secular democracy with a huge Muslim population. This experience is – was – so important for all of us so that its failure will be a victory for the Islam of fascism in the East and Islamophobia in the West.”

“Erdogan has never been a true believer of European Union or European ideals but commends the Europeans as if he had.”

Full Remarks

Thank you very much.

It is very hard for me to speak after such a sad speech, ladies and gentlemen, but at the same time, I’m very honoured to be here in front of you, at the Geneva Summit for Democracy and Human Rights.

We are in a big family of freedom fighters from all over the world here, the family that knows the meaning of democracy and human rights by heart; the family that never surrenders under heavy pressures of the oppressive governments; the family who has the courage to act by risking everything they have, including their loved ones.

We will talk about the return of authoritarianism; it cannot return to our land because it has never left the country. Our democracy is 66 years old and has 4 military interventions in this period of time and now we are living through a civil authoritarian regime in Turkey. In fact, what attitude our founder has created is a miracle. He created a secular country out of a fragmented empire. 

We were kept waiting 66 years to be a member in the European family. Finally, people were fed up with waiting and turned their back to the European dream. Turkey has lost a European perspective; Europe has lost Turkey as the only secular democracy with a huge Muslim population. This experience is – was – so important for all of us so that its failure will be a victory for the Islam of fascism in the East and Islamophobia in the West. 

Erdogan has never been a true believer of European Union or European ideals but commends the Europeans as if he had. Europe was looking for a leader less radical, a “soft” Islamist, and thought it that it was Erdogan and supported him in coming to power and getting rid of the authoritarian army from Turkish political scene. Many liberals in Turkey also supported him but in the lack of democratic institutions, the army was the only force who could stop these Islamists coming to power. 

After sending the soldiers into their barracks thanks to the help of his partner Fethullah Gülen, Erdogan got the full power and two Islamists, namely Erdogan and Gülen, had run the country hand in hand for 10 years. Erdogan was governing while Gülen controlling the bureaucracy. But more power brought more problems, and Erdogan and Gülen have separated. A war has started between them; as they were very close in power, they knew each other’s secrets, so all of a sudden they started to reveal those secrets. Thanks to this fight, we learned about the corruption case of Erdogan and dirty operations of the deep state created by Gülen.

On the 16th of July, we witnessed the military coup attempt and thanks God we survived. Many people thought it was something like a Reichstag fire, but I guess it was a serious attempt. If they succeeded, we would have a military government now. But instead, what we have now is a police state. What a difference and nothing changed for us.

The coup was a gift of God from Erdogan as mentioned by himself, he used this opportunity to enhance his power and clear all of his opponents. He was lucky enough for hosting 3 million refugees to be used against Europe to buy their silence. He stopped Europe’s criticism by using the fear of refugee flow, and now he is controlling the government, parliament, media, judiciary, police and the army. And what we have is just this [points to pen], this is the only power we have, which is powerful enough to fight against an oppressive government.

Without the division of power and rule of law, now he was poisoned by his power, declared a state of emergency and in a witch hunt, 15,000 people were arrested, 50,000 were sacked – politicians, journalists, teachers, writers, academics, lawyers – and under these circumstances he decided to change the parliamentary regime for a one-man system which will bring more authoritarianism. If he wins this referendum, he will have the power to abolish the parliament, declare state of emergency, control the judiciary and the whole country.  

On the 16th of April, we will decide, we will have the most important referendum in our history, and we will decide between democracy and dictatorship. And some of the people who dare to say ‘NO’ to dictatorship are in jail now, including leaders of the parliamentarians of the third biggest party, and 150 journalists, including my paper’s Editor-in-chief together with my 10 colleagues of our paper Cumhuriyet. 

Let me just few words about my case: I wrote a story 2 years ago about Turkish intelligence trucks trafficking arms through Syria. It was an international crime and illegal attempt and the story was true, never denied by the government. But instead, Erdogan threatened me, saying that the journalists who made this story will pay a heavy price, and I’ve been paying this price since then. I faced four charges like spying, trying to topple the government, aiding terrorist organisation, revealing state secrets, and got 5 years and 10 months of imprisonment, and I spent 3 months in prison, released by the decision of the Constitutional Court, saying that what we’ve done was not an act of terrorism but an act of journalism. I was attacked in front of the courthouse at the decision day, but I survived thanks to the braveness of my wife who jumped on the attacker and saved my life. 

We are still fighting, and now I’m in exile in Germany and we start a new media outlet there which is banned before we’ve started but in Turkey many courageous journalists still fighting against this oppression and fighting for democracy and human rights in Turkey; and, this is very important opportunity for us and I just want to say to you that, please support those freedom fighters all over the world, read and spread their articles, books, write letters to them to the prison, go to their hearings with their families and warn your governments not to support the oppression but the freedom fighters; and, UN should hear the sound of this alternative UN Summit and I guess Turkish government deserves a resolution and special session for the human rights abuses. If not now, then when? And, why UN stand for? 

So, we should keep the spirit alive, keep the team together here and we should join our forces and stand up against aggression all over the world.

Thank you very much.