Demonstrators protest in front of an Istanbul court in September 2020, shortly before Barış Pehlivan and four other journalists were convicted of violating national security laws. Pehlivan, who initially served six months of his sentence, reported on August 2, 2023, that he has been ordered to return to prison for eight months. (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Turkish journalist Barış Pehlivan ordered to return to prison over alleged parole violation

Istanbul, August 9, 2023—Turkish authorities should not force Barış Pehlivan to return to prison for allegedly violating his parole in a 2020 case involving his reporting on a Turkish intelligence officer, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Wednesday.

Pehlivan, a columnist for the pro-opposition daily Cumhuriyet, revealed in an August 2 column that he was ordered to report back to prison no later than August 15 to serve eight months of a 2020 sentence for violating the country’s national intelligence laws.

In March 2020, Turkish authorities arrested Pehlivan, then chief editor of independent news website Odatv, along with five other journalists over their coverage of the death of a Turkish intelligence officer in Libya. Pehlivan and four other journalists were found guilty of violating national intelligence laws in September 2020; that month, Pehlivan was released on parole after having served six months.

“Barış Pehlivan did not deserve to be imprisoned over his reporting three years ago, and he definitely does not deserve to lose eight more months of his life behind bars,” said Özgür Öğret, CPJ’s Turkey representative. “Turkish authorities must stop arresting members of the press and instead provide a safe environment where journalists can do their job without fear of judicial retaliation.”

In the 2020 case, Pehlivan was initially sentenced to three years and nine months in prison; due to Turkish sentencing laws, his term has been reduced so that eight months remain.

In his August 2 column about the order to return to prison, Pehlivan said the authorities considered him in violation of his parole due to a new government probe into whether he committed “insult” with a column about a judge on Turkey’s Supreme Court of Appeals published in Cumhuriyet. 

On Monday, August 7, Pehlivan’s lawyers filed an appeal for him to remain released under judicial control, which would allow him to stay out of prison but would ban him from traveling and require him to report to police, according to news reports.

On Wednesday, CPJ joined 18 other press freedom, freedom of expression, and human rights organizations as signatories of a joint statement urging Turkish authorities not to re-imprison Pehlivan and to stop the “systematic judicial harassment” against journalists. 

CPJ emailed the Istanbul chief prosecutor’s office for comment but did not receive any reply. At the time of CPJ’s latest prison census, on December 1, 2022, at least 40 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey.

Editor’s note: The reason authorities consider the journalist in violation of his parole has been corrected in the sixth paragraph.