Turkish journalist Mehmet Baransu, along with three of his former colleagues at the shuttered newspaper Taraf, were recently sentenced to years in prison. (Screenshot: Habertürk TV/YouTube)

Turkish court sentences 4 former Taraf journalists to prison for exposing state secrets

Istanbul, March 7, 2022 – Turkish authorities should drop all charges against former staff members of the shuttered liberal daily Taraf and should free journalist Mehmet Baransu immediately, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Monday.

On Friday, March 4, the 13th Istanbul Court of Serious Crimes convicted four former Taraf employees on national security charges, according to news reports.

Chief editor Ahmet Altan and editors Yasemin Çongar and Yıldıray Oğur were each convicted of illegally acquiring state secrets and were sentenced to three years and four months each in prison, those reports said, adding that they can remain free while their appeals are pending.

Baransu, a reporter and columnist, was sentenced 13 years in prison: six years for acquiring secret information and seven for “exposing secret information,” those reports said. Baransu has been held at Silivri Prison in Istanbul since 2015 as part of this case, according to CPJ research

The court also ordered each defendant to pay 10,250 Turkish lira (US$715), to be divided among five former military officials who were complainants in trial, those news reports said.

“Turkish authorities’ recent convictions of four journalists from the shuttered newspaper Taraf show that the government will stop at nothing to punish adversarial members of the press – even for stories they did not write,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Authorities should drop this weak case immediately, not contest the journalists’ appeals, and release Mehmet Baransu from custody.”

The charges stem from 2010 reporting by Taraf on documents that were leaked to Baransu, and which allegedly included information on a plan for the military overthrow of the ruling Justice and Development Party, news reports said.

The journalists’ lawyers said that, while the defendants had reported on a set of leaks known as the “Sledgehammer” documents, they had not reported on the specific documents cited in this state secrets case, and they had never acquired those documents, those reports said.

Lawyer Figen Albuga Çalıkuşu said the Turkish military had concluded that the documents in question had been destroyed in 2008, so could not have been part of those 2010 leaks, according to those reports.

Authorities previously arrested Altan in 2016 in an unrelated case, released him briefly in 2019, and then returned him to custody until April 2021, CPJ has documented.

CPJ emailed the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for comment but received no immediate reply.