The coup attempt of 15 July in Turkey brought about a massive nationwide campaign to silence opposition to the government and punish those suspected of being connected to the plotters. In all, some 15,800 people have been detained, including 10,000 soldiers and over 1,400 members of the judiciary. Yet long before the violent events on Turkey's streets, the country's media had already been feeling the heat of increasing government scrutiny. Turkey's prickly president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has led the country since 2003 has become increasingly intolerant of criticism and, by bearing down on the formerly powerful armed forces, has become the most powerful national leader since Mustafa Kemal, the founder of the modern Turkish state. While the impetus for the coup remains murky, Erdogan insists that it was led by the so-called "parallel state", a catch-all term to describe followers of Fethullah Gülen, an Islamic preacher living in self-imposed exile in the US, who has a strong following inside Turkey. The coup attempt is now being used by the authorities to purge Turkish institutions of any suspected Gülen sympathisers and constrain the free media. While many of the major media outlets have long been practicing self-censorship in order to protect their other commercial interests, smaller outfits such as Zaman, a Gülen linked paper and Cumhuriyet, the country's oldest upmarket daily newspaper, have felt the full brunt of the government's fury. In 2014, the offices of Zaman were raided, numerous journalists arrested and some charged with "establishing and managing an armed terror organisation." In March 2016, the government seized control of the newspaper.
Cumhuriyet has faired slightly better and was holding its own in the battle between the government and the independent press. In 2015, however, it overstepped the mark, publishing a story about Turkey's National Intelligence Organisation supplying weapons to rebels fighting in Syria. A furious Erdogan publicly vowed that "the person who wrote
this as an exclusive report will pay a heavy price" and shortly after, the paper's new editor in chief Can Dündar and its Ankara bureau chief Erdem Gül were arrested on charges of being members of a terrorist organisation, espionage and releaving confidential documents. Dündar narrowly survived an assassination attempt by a nationalist gunman in front of the courthouse where he and Gül were sentenced to over 5 years in prison. The pair was released 92 days into their sentence, pending an appeal. Like many journalists, Dündar and his colleagues have begun to feel the full force of the state's displeasure. The newspaper's offices are surrounded by an 8-foot-tall fence manned by armed guards yet over the years, the building has been firebombed a number of times.
At the beginning of Erdogan's tenure, Dündar and other liberal Turks were cautiously optimistic, especially following the new government's campaign to reign in the army which had removed four civilian governments since 1960. The driving force behind the prosecution of prominent military personnel were bureaucrats and judicial officials linked to the Gülen movement. Since the fallout
between Erdogen and Gülen, however, brought on by Erdogan's suspicion of the Gülenists' political ambitions, Turkish political life has become increasingly fractured and its media muzzled accordingly.
Even for a seasoned journalist like Dündar, the pressure of Turkey's post-coup reality has taken its toll. On 7 July 2016 he had written to his staff at Cumhuriyet that "while my passion for journalism and determination to report did not subside one bit, I feel I grew physically and spiritually tired." Shortly after this announcement, he flew to Germany to receive an award for his work. Following the arrest of dozens of journalists after the coup, Dündar let it be known that he has no faith in the Turkish justice system under the state of emergency imposed following the coup. He is believed to be in Germany. "To trust such a judiciary" he wrote in his Cumhuriyet column "would be like putting one's head under the guillotine.".
Guy Martin gained unique access to Dündar and the editorial offices of Cumhuriyet and covered the newspapers operations in the weeks leading up to the fateful coup attempt.