Journalist Mehmet Baransu, who was indicted for publishing classified documents from a 2004 National Security Council (MGK) meeting during which council members had discussed an action plan targeting the faith-based Gülen movement, is facing a prison term of 52 years, with the first hearing of his trial taking place at an İstanbul court on Wednesday.
The MGK document dated Aug. 25, 2004 persuades the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government to implement a series of measures to curb the activities of the Gülen movement, also known as the Hizmet movement. It advises the government to adopt legal measures that would impose harsh penalties on Gülen-affiliated institutions.
Immediately after Baransu’s report was published in the Taraf daily on Nov. 28, 2013, the Prime Ministry, the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the MGK filed a joint criminal complaint against the daily and Baransu for revealing confidential state documents. The complaint immediately turned into an investigation into the journalist, with Baransu facing charges of acquiring confidential documents crucial to state security, revealing information that is forbidden from being publicized and political and military espionage.
The first hearing of the trial was held at the Anatolia 10th High Criminal Court on Wednesday. Baransu, who is currently under arrest in Silivri Prison as a result of another investigation, did not attend the hearing.
Baransu was arrested by the İstanbul 5th Penal Court in March over documents he had submitted to prosecutors regarding the Sledgehammer (Balyoz) coup plot against the government in 2010.
Since November 2013, Taraf has published several confidential documents suggesting that the ruling AK Party and MİT have been profiling individuals linked to various religious and faith-based groups, mainly the Gülen movement, inspired by Turkish-Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. The party confirmed the authenticity of the documents but argued that no action was taken to implement the policy prescriptions indicated therein.
In the indictment, the prosecutor’s office said although the entire contents of the Aug. 25, 2004 MGK meeting was required to be kept confidential, Baransu covered it on the front page of the newspaper, thus openly violating laws that provide a shield of secrecy for MGK meetings and documents.
In addition to Baransu, Taraf’s then-managing editor Murat Şevki Çoban is also implicated for his role in allowing Baransu’s story to be published. Çoban is also facing a prison term of 52 years.
Delivering his defense statement, Çoban said the report should be interpreted within the scope of press freedom. Stating that the exposure of a crime does not constitute a crime, Çoban sought his acquittal.
In the meantime, Baransu testified to a prosecutor at the İstanbul Courthouse in Çağlayan on Thursday based on a complaint by Esat Burak Uzundere, the user of pro-government Twitter troll account Esat Ç, known for posting insulting and inflammatory messages targeting people who do not support the AK Party.
Uzundere’s complaint was based on a Twitter post by Baransu on him on the grounds that Baransu had violated his privacy.
In one of his earlier tweets, Baransu revealed Esat Ç’s real identity as Uzundure, which was later confirmed by a court, and exposed his link to the AK Party.
Meanwhile, Baransu’s lawyer and family members were disappointed and upset that the journalist was taken to Çağlayan on Thursday, the only day that they are allowed to have an open visit.
Baransu’s lawyer Sercan Sakallı said the journalist had been taken to the courthouse while his family was waiting for an open visit with him in Silivri.
As he was being taken to courthouse, Baransu spoke to reporters waiting in the corridors of the courthouse, stating he has been kept in isolation for 98 days and that he is preparing his defense under difficult circumstances in prison.
The prosecution of journalist for their work or because of their criticisms of the government or President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become almost a daily occurrence in Turkey, with dozens of them facing charges of insulting a state official or conducting terrorist propaganda.
Most recently, Cumhuriyet Editor-in-Chief Can Dündar is facing an aggravated life sentence as a result of a criminal complaint filed by Erdoğan on Tuesday for the publication of images that prove that arms were transferred to Syria by MİT.
The images contradict the government’s earlier claim that the trucks were only carrying humanitarian aid to Turkmens in the war-torn country.
Last week, journalist Erkam Tufan Aytav, who works for Bugün TV, testified to İstanbul Deputy Chief Public Prosecutor Fuzuli Aydoğdu as a suspect at the İstanbul Courthouse. Aytav did not give any information about the content of the investigation because it was confidential.
On the same day, another journalist, Aytekin Gezici, was also in court at the first hearing of a trial launched against him over charges of insulting President Erdoğan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç and former Justice Minister Bekir Bozdağ on social media.
In addition, journalists Mirgün Cabas, Koray Çalışkan and Banu Güven as well as TV host Pelin Batu were summoned by the İstanbul Chief Public Prosecutor’s Office last week to testify as part of an investigation into their social media posts regarding the killing of a public prosecutor during a hostage crisis at the İstanbul Courthouse on March 31. The journalists are accused of conducting propaganda for a terrorist organization in their tweets on the day the prosecutor was killed.
Journalists facing legal action in Turkey today are just not limited to these figures, with dozens more who are either in prison or prosecuted.
Samanyolu Broadcasting Group General Manager Hidayet Karaca was taken into custody on Dec. 14, 2014 as part of a government-backed police operation. Karaca was later arrested and remains in prison on suspicion of being a member of an armed organization. The charges against him are based on a fictional TV series that was broadcast a few years ago.
Sedef Kabaş, a TV presenter, is facing a prison sentence of up to five years for posting a tweet about a corruption probe involving high-profile individuals.