Police officers are seen in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on April 9, 2020. Authorities recently charged seven journalists over their coverage of an intelligence officer's death. (Reuters/Sertac Kayar)

Turkey charges 7 journalists over coverage of intelligence agent’s death

May 13, 2020 1:40 PM ET

Istanbul, May 13, 2020 – Turkish authorities must release journalists detained for their coverage of an intelligence officer and drop all charges against them, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

On May 8, an Istanbul court charged seven journalists with violating the country’s intelligence laws in their coverage of a Turkish National Intelligence Organization (MİT) operative who was killed in Libya, and set a trial date for June 24, according to news reports.

If convicted of revealing secret information about state security or intelligence operations, the journalists can face 8 to 17 years in prison, those reports said.

The journalists charged include left-nationalist news website Odatv editor-in-chief Barış Pehlivan, reporter Hülya Kılınç, and news editor Barış Terkoğlu; pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam editor-in-chief Ferhat Çelik and responsible news editor Aydın Keser; nationalist daily Yeniçağ columnist Murat Ağırel; and Erk Acarer, a columnist for the socialist daily BirGün, according to the indictment, which CPJ reviewed.

“Journalists from the opposing factions of Turkey’s social and political spectrum are charged together in this indictment with the claim of a conspiracy against Turkey’s intelligence agency, of which there is no evidence presented,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Turkey should stop attempting to control independent journalism with intimidation, immediately free the arrested journalists, and drop this case.”

The Odatv, Yeni Yaşam, and Yeniçağ journalists have been held in detention since their arrests in early March, as CPJ documented at the time. Acarer is abroad and is wanted for arrest, according to his employer.

The charges stem from the journalists’ coverage of the death of an MİT operative who was killed in Libya, according to the indictment. Ağırel and Acarer are accused of disclosing the officer’s name on Twitter on February 22, the Yeni Yaşam journalists are accused of disclosing information regarding Turkish military activity in Libya in articles published on February 23 and 24, and the Odatv journalists are accused of disclosing identifying information while covering the officer’s funeral in Turkey on March 3.

In the indictment, the prosecution alleges that the journalists conspired “in a systematic and coordinated way” to illegally reveal information about the intelligence officer and Turkey’s actions in Libya.

The indictment also charges Eren Ekinci, a civil servant at the media office of the Akhisar municipality, where the officer’s funeral was held, with violating the country’s intelligence laws for allegedly sharing footage of the funeral with Kılınç.

CPJ emailed the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office for comment, but did not receive any reply.