Turkish High Court denies journalist’s petition for release from pretrial detention

Istanbul, May 18, 2016–The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned a decision made Tuesday by Turkey’s Constitutional Court to reject a petition for release by journalist Mehmet Baransu, who has been held in pretrial detention since March 2015 on charges of obtaining classified documents.

“Mehmet Baransu is being treated as a dangerous criminal rather than as a journalist who did his job,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “Given that Baransu should not have spent a day in jail, we urge the Turkish judicial authorities to exercise their independence from political influence, free him immediately, and ensure that he receives a fair and transparent trial.”

According to the news agency Cihan, Baransu argued in his petition, which he filed to the court on April 24, 2015 that authorities in Silviri prison violated his rights and subjected him to mistreatment and torture. Baransu spent about four months in solitary confinement after his arrest, his lawyer Sercan Sakallı told CPJ in 2015.

The judges on Tuesday unanimously rejected Baransu’s appeal on procedural grounds, claiming that the journalist had not exhausted all legal channels and therefore could not seek redress from the high court, news reports said.

Turkish authorities imprisoned Baransu, a columnist and correspondent for the privately-owned daily newspaper Taraf, on March 1, 2015, after raiding and searching his home the same day, according to CPJ research. The journalist was accused of obtaining classified documents in 2010 that authorities claimed were linked to an alleged 2003 plot planned by Turkish generals against then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is now Turkey’s president.

Baransu gave the documents, whose source he has not identified, to Turkish prosecutors in 2010.

During his pretrial detention, authorities have filed additional charges against Baransu. In June 2015, an Istanbul court convicted the journalist of insulting Erdoğan via a series of tweets in 2013 alleging government corruption, and sentenced him to 10 months in jail, Sakallı told CPJ at the time. Baransu appealed that verdict, but no ruling has been issued and he has not started serving that sentence, Sakallı told CPJ today.

Sakallı told CPJ today that authorities have filed several other cases against Baransu, all of them stemming from his critical reporting in 2013 on issues such as government wrongdoing and the alleged genetic modification of food products in Turkey. In these cases, Baransu is accused of being a member of an alleged organization led by Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen, a former supporter and now critic of Erdoğan who lives in the U.S. The government has classified the movement as a terrorist organization and claims it has infiltrated the judiciary, police, and media. The charge of belonging to the alleged organization carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, the lawyer said.

According to news reports, Baransu testified on May 2 before Anatolia’s 10th Court for Serious Crimes in connection to another case. The charges, brought by the Turkish National Security Council, are of obtaining information regarding state security and the security service’s actions, the reports said.

The press freedom climate in Turkey has significantly deteriorated in the past few years, CPJ research shows. The country was among the world’s worst jailers of journalists in 2015, with 14 imprisoned at the time of CPJ’s annual census of jailed journalists on December 1. In addition to jailing reporters on insult charges or accusations of aiding terrorist groups, Erdoğan’s government has also taken over several independent news outlets and barred entry to some international reporters.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The third paragraph has been changed to correct the description of Cihan news agency.