Protesters demonstrate outside the courthouse on Monday, where several journalists were among those convicted for participation in the alleged Ergenekon plot. (AP)

Journalists sentenced in alleged Ergenekon plot

August 7, 2013 3:00 PM ET

Istanbul, August 7, 2013--A Turkish appellate court should overturn the convictions of numerous journalists who have been convicted in connection with Ergenekon, a broad anti-government conspiracy, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. The journalists were convicted on flawed penal and anti-terror laws that conflate news coverage and commentary with terrorism.

The 13th Court of Serious Crimes in Istanbul on Monday sentenced at least 20 journalists to varying prison terms, according to news reports. Defense lawyers told CPJ that they were preparing appeals for their clients. The court did not explain its verdicts or the sentences on Monday, and written verdicts have not yet been published.

The journalists were among dozens who were sentenced on Monday in connection with Ergenekon, a shadowy conspiracy that authorities claimed was aimed at overthrowing the government in a military coup. The defendants included members of the military, politicians, academics, and others. Among those sentenced was the former military chief of staff İlker Başbuğ, who was given a life term.

A 2012 CPJ investigation found that a number of the journalists were being prosecuted for their professional activities.

"These Turkish journalists, several of whom have already spent several years behind bars, have been swept up by an overly broad prosecution that equates journalistic coverage unfavorable to the government with actual anti-state activities," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "The Ergenekon prosecution illustrates the overreach by the Turkish government that has made it the world's leading jailer of journalists."

Among the journalists sentenced on Monday were:

  • Mustafa Balbay, columnist with the leftist-ultranationalist daily Cumhuriyet, who was given a term of 34 years and eight months for allegedly provoking an armed rebellion, obtaining and revealing state security documents, violating the private life of individuals, and attempting to remove the Turkish government by force.
  • Yalçın Küçük, an opinion writer for the ultranationalist-leftist news website Odatv, who was given a prison term of 22.5 years for attempting to remove the Turkish government by force and attempting to influence an ongoing trial.
  • Turhan Özlü, chief editor for the ultranationalist-leftist television station Ulusal Kanal, who received a nine-year term on charges of being a member of a terrorist organization, which is what Ergenekon is considered.
  • Deniz Yıldırım, the chief editor of the ultranationalist-leftist then-monthly newspaper Aydınlık, who received a sentence of 16 years and 10 months on charges of obtaining and revealing state security documents and violating the private life of individuals through illegally recording and publishing private conversations.

Turkey is the world's worst jailer of journalists, according to CPJ research. At least 49 journalists were behind bars when CPJ conducted its worldwide prison census on December 1, 2012.

  • For more on Turkey, visit CPJ's Turkey page here.

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