In Turkey, jailed journalist given new prison term as third investigation begins

Istanbul, July 1, 2015–Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu was handed a 10-month jail sentence by an Istanbul court on June 30 for insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Twitter, according to reports. Baransu, a columnist and correspondent for the privately owned daily Taraf, is already in prison while authorities investigate him on separate charges, his lawyer told CPJ.

The Anadolu 2nd Court of First Instance found Baransu guilty of insulting the president in a series of tweets and retweets about allegations of government corruption in December 2013, Baransu’s lawyer Sercan Sakallı told CPJ. Sakallı said some of the posts had been issued from accounts impersonating the journalist. Baransu, who has been under arrest since March 1 on separate charges of obtaining secret documents, will appeal, the lawyer told CPJ. His March arrest is related to files he received in 2010 connected to the “Sledgehammer” alleged coup plot, according to reports.

“We call on Turkish authorities to release Mehmet Baransu without delay, stop piling new charges on him in retaliation for his reporting, and stop treating him as a dangerous criminal,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Turkey may have reduced the number of journalists in its jails, but this case shows clearly that authorities have not given up imprisonment as a tactic for intimidating the critical press.”

Turkey was the world’s worst jailer of journalists in 2012 and 2013 but released dozens in 2014, bringing to seven the number of journalists behind bars at the time of CPJ’s most recent annual census.

On June 30, Baransu was also questioned for the first time in a third investigation started by the Turkish intelligence agency, the MİT, in April, Sakallı said. In that case, Baransu is being investigated over a series of articles and opinion columns published in Taraf in 2011 on the Uludere airstrike in December of that year, in which 34 Kurdish villagers were killed by Turkish fighter jets. The government said the pilots had mistaken the villagers for militants with the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), according to reports.

After the June 30 court hearing, Sakallı told reporters: “Launching an investigation into Baransu based on articles written four years ago and a request for the arrest of Baransu based on them shows the pitiful situation the judiciary is in,” the English-language daily Today’s Zaman reported. “We believe the judiciary acts on the basis of instructions [from the government].”

Sakallı has been given only limited access to details of the MİT investigation against Baransu because it has been declared secret. The journalist is accused of “revealing official documents that should remain secret for the state’s security and political interests” and “collecting secret official documents on the state security,” the English-language Hürriyet Daily News reported.

Baransu was kept in isolation for nearly four months, his lawyer told CPJ; on June 22 he was given a cell mate. Prison authorities are not allowing him contact with other prisoners and he has been banned from joint sport activities, with no reason given, Sakallı said. In May, CPJ tried to visit Baransu in prison but was denied access.