Six imprisoned journalists to finally appear in court in Istanbul
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for the immediate release of six Turkish journalists who have been held for nearly four months and who will appear in court in Istanbul for the first time today. The Turkish authorities must stop detaining journalists arbitrarily, RSF said.
Held since early March in Silivri prison, 85 km west of Istanbul, the six journalists were arrested for posting or sharing an article on the OdaTV news website on 3 March with photos of the funeral of an officer with Turkey’s National Intelligence Agency (MIT) who had been killed in Libya.
The six journalists – Barış Terkoğlu, Hülya Kılınç, Barış Pehlivan, Murat Agirel, Mehmet Ferhat Celik and Aydin Keser – are all facing up to 19 years in prison on charges of “divulging information classified as top secret with regard to political and state security interests” and of violating the law on intelligence services.
Today’s hearing will probably be held behind closed doors as the case involves the MIT. The list of defendants also includes Erk Acarer, a journalist living in self-imposed exile, and Eren Ekinci, the city hall press officer in Akhisar, in Manisa province, where the funeral took place.
“Neither press freedom nor the right to criticize will be respected in Turkey as long as the justice system is under the thumb of the government, and the government thinks it must arrest journalists in order to deter its opponents,” RSF Turkey representative Erol Onderoglu said. “There is an urgent need to end these detentions. These journalists, who work for OdaTV and for the Yeniçağ and Yeni Yaşam daily newspapers, have no place being in prison. All the charges against them must be dropped.”
Six journalists held for four months
OdaTV editor Barış Terkoğlu and Hülya Kılınç, one of his reporters, were the first to be arrested – by an Istanbul justice of the peace of 5 March. The other four journalists – OdaTV news director Barış Pehlivan, Yeniçağ columnist Murat Agirel, and the pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam’s managing editor, Mehmet Ferhat Celik, and his editor, Aydin Keser – were arrested in the course of the next three days.
Although they responded to summonses from prosecutors, they were placed in pre-trial detention on the grounds of “possible flight” and the risk of “deterioration of prosecution evidence.”
OdaTV’s Terkoğlu, Pehlivan and Kılınç are accused of publishing the offending article, while Kılınç, the reporter, is additionally accused of writing it after obtaining photos of the funeral via WhatsApp. Agirel, the columnist, and Acarer, the journalist living abroad, are accused of complicity because they shared a tweet of the photos.
In reality, the identity of the intelligence officer who was being buried had already been made public. A spokesperson for Ümit Özdag’s opposition Iyi Party had mentioned his name in the National Assembly on 26 February and certain media, including Yeniçağ, had published it.
“Even after it was revealed in parliament and then picked up by certain newspapers, we took the trouble of disguising the intelligence officer’s surname,” said Pehlivan, OdaTV’s news director.
The offending article and then the website itself were censored on 4 and 6 March respectively by Istanbul justices of the peace and the Council for Telecommunications (BTK) for “breaching public order by exposing intelligence service activities” (article 8, paragraph A, of the Law 5651 on the Internet).
Terkoğlu and Pehlivan were previously detained along with investigative reporters Ahmet Şık and Nedim Şener and several OdaTV employees for more than a year in 2011-12, when they were all the victims of a plot orchestrated by police and judges with the aim of controlling Fethullah Gülen’s religious movement.
Turkey is ranked 154th out of 180 countries and territories in RSF's 2020 World Press Freedom Index.