A Turkish court on September 9 sentenced five journalists to a total of 22 years in prison for allegedly “revealing” the name of a national intelligence agent whose identity had already been made public in Parliament.
A total of seven journalists with various critical media outlets were charged after reporting on the funeral of a Turkish national intelligence (MIT) agent who died in February in Libya. Five were found guilty. However, three of the convicted journalists who had been in pre-trial detention since March were released pending appeal.
“This trial has once again exposed the politically driven nature of Turkey’s prosecution of journalists”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “Although we are relieved that the three journalists who had been jailed since March are now free, these baseless convictions must be overturned on appeal. Prosecuting journalists for ‘revealing’ facts that were already public is absurd. It is clear that this case is about seeking to suppress unwanted press coverage on the sensitive issue of Turkey’s involvement in Libya.”
Journalists Barış Terkoğlu and Hülya Kılınç, critical Odatv news editor and Manisa correspondent, respectively and Odatv Editor-in-Chief Barış Pehlivan were arrested on March 4 and 6. Journalists Ferhat Çelik and Aydın Keser, pro-Kurdish Yeni Yaşam newspaper’s editor-in-chief and news editor, respectively and Murat Ağırel, nationalist Yeniçağ newspaper columnist, were arrested in the following two days, initially released and then rearrested following an appeal by the prosecutor. BirGün newspaper journalist Erk Acarer’s file, who is living abroad, was merged with the case file during the prosecution. Terkoğlu, Keser and Çelik were released on June 24, 2020, during the first hearing of the trial.
Yesterday’s hearing was monitored by IPI Turkey National Committee member and journalist İpek Yezdani at Çağlayan Courthouse. The three journalists Pehlivan, Kılınç and Ağırel were marking six months in pretrial detention.
Journalists and rights groups who gathered to observe the hearing held a press conference before the hearing in front of the courthouse. Terkoğlu, as one of the defendants in the case, read the statement and said: “We know that those who draft the scripts to put journalists in jail, produce crimes out of public interviews that they embellish with unreal references, do not also believe in their own indictments.”
Several opposition MPs were also monitoring the hearing to show solidarity with journalists. During the day-long hearing, journalists gave their final statements asking for acquittal.
Pehlivan stated that “they didn’t commit into any crime when the photograph, which shows people carrying the coffin, was broadcast on the TV channel,” as Yezdani reported from the courtroom.
Kılınç also said that she didn’t know that photographed operatives were members of Turkish Intelligence agency and there was no way that she could have known this information, in her statement.
After 7 pm in Istanbul time, the court announced its ruling. Five journalists – Pehlivan, Kılınç, Ağırel, Keser and Çelik – were convicted on charges of violating different articles in the National Intelligence Law. The court released Pehlivan, Kılınç, Ağırel with the right to go to the appeal court. Terkoğlu was acquitted of all charges. Erk Acarer’s file was separated to proceed in a future date. All defendants were acquitted on the charges of “revealing confidential information regarding the security and domestic and external interest of the state”.
Barış Pehlivan and Hülya Kılınç – 3 years and 9 months each on “revealing information on National Intelligence activity”
Aydın Keser, Ferhat Çelik and Murat Ağırel – 4 years 8 months and 7 days each for defying the National Intelligence Law Art. 27/3 which regulates “publishing information or documents related to MİT activities without permission via the press”