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Turkey sentences exiled journalist Can Dundar to 27 years in prison

Dundar was convicted in absentia of espionage and aiding an armed organisation
Can Dundar
Dundar was sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for publishing video purporting to show Turkish arms shipments to Syrian rebels (AFP)

Prominent journalist Can Dundar was sentenced in absentia by a Turkish court to 27 years in prison for supporting terrorism and "military or political espionage".

Dundar, the former editor-in-chief of Cumhuriyet, a centre-left newspaper, was sentenced in 2016 to five years in prison for publishing a video purporting to show Turkish arms shipments to Syrian rebels in 2015. He was later released pending appeal.

An Istanbul court sentenced Dundar on Wednesday to 18 years and nine months for obtaining state secrets for the purpose of political or military espionage, and an additional eight years and nine months for supporting an armed terrorist organisation without being a member.

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His lawyers refused to attend the final hearing, saying in a written statement that "we do not want to be part of a practice to legitimise a previously decided, political verdict". 

Dundar told the Guardian that he "knew what the verdict in my case would be before the case even ended".

"There are no means to defend yourself in Turkey anymore because the judges and judiciary cannot be trusted," he said.

"The message the Turkish government is sending here by punishing a journalist so harshly is that 'If you cover sensitive issues this is what will happen to you.' My fear is this verdict will further deter journalists still in Turkey from doing their job."

Before Dundar's arrest, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had singled him out for criticism, warning that he would "pay a heavy price" for publishing the story.

'Journalism is not a crime'

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas criticised the ruling as "a hard blow against independent journalistic work in Turkey".

"Journalism is not a crime, but an indispensable service to society - especially when it looks critically at those in power," he tweeted.

In a message posted on Twitter, Fahrettin Altun, Erdogan's spokesman, demanded Dundar's extradition from Germany. "To call him a journalist - and his sentence, a blow to free speech - is an insult to real journalists everywhere," Altun wrote.

The sentencing comes a day after the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Turkey should immediately release Selahattin Demirtas, a former member of parliament who has been imprisoned and awaiting trial since November 2016.

Demirtas, a former leader of a pro-Kurdish opposition party, has been charged with terrorism-related offences, which he has denied.