Demonstrators stage a protest in front of a courthouse in Istanbul, Turkey, on September 9, 2020, before a trial of jailed journalists. Five of the journalists were convicted and are free pending appeal. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Turkey convicts 5 journalists under national security law

Istanbul, September 10, 2020 – Turkish authorities must not contest recently convicted journalists’ appeals on national security cases, and cease jailing members of the press for covering sensitive topics, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Yesterday, the 34th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes convicted Odatv chief editor Barış Pehlivan, and reporter Hülya Kılınç, Yeniçağ columnist Murat Ağırel, and Yeni Yaşam chief editor Ferhat Çelik and news editor Aydın Keser of violating the country’s national intelligence laws in their reporting on the death of a National Intelligence Agency officer, according to local and international news reports.

The case now proceeds to an appeals court, according to those reports. If the appeal is rejected, Pehlivan and Kılınç will be sentenced to three years and nine months in prison, and Ağırel, Çelik, and Keser will be sentenced to four years, eight months, and seven days, according to independent Turkish news website Bianet.

The court acquitted the same journalists, along with Odatv news editor Barış Terkoğlu, on charges of revealing secret information, according to those reports.

Terkoğlu, Çelik, and Keser were freed on June 24 pending trial, and were barred from leaving the country, according to news reports from the time. The remaining journalists were released following yesterday’s verdict, and are free pending their appeals, but also cannot travel abroad, according to Bianet.

“Turkish authorities never should have arrested a single journalist for their reporting on an intelligence agent’s death, and must ensure that no member of the press spends an additional day in jail for their coverage of that incident,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna, in New York. “Turkish authorities should not contest these journalists’ appeals, and should allow the media to cover national security topics without fear of harassment and imprisonment.”

Turkish law enforcement arrested Pehlivan, Kılınç, Ağırel, Çelik, Keser, and Terkoğlu in early March, as CPJ documented at the time. In May, authorities charged them, along with BirGün columnist Erk Acarer, with violating national intelligence laws and revealing secret information.

Acarer was not arrested as he is abroad; his case will be tried separately from the six others, according to reports.

The left-nationalist news site Odatv, nationalist daily Yeniçağ, pro-Kurdish daily Yeni Yaşam, and socialist daily BirGün all covered the story of a Turkish intelligence officer who died in Libya in February, as CPJ documented.

CPJ emailed Turkey’s Justice Ministry for comment but received no reply.