ISTANBUL (AP) – Seven journalists were on trial on Wednesday, charged with revealing state secrets for their reports on the funeral of an intelligence officer killed in Libya. Three of the defendants have been released pending the outcome of the trial.
The journalists from the Odatv news website, the pro-Kurdish newspaper Yeni Yasam and the nationalist daily Yenicag have been accused of violating national intelligence laws and revealing classified information. If convicted, they are sentenced to eight to nineteen years in prison.
Odatv editor-in-chief Baris Pehlivan, editor Baris Terkoglu, reporter Hulya Kilinc and Yeni Yasam editor-in-chief Ferhat Celik and news editor Aydin Keser were accused of their reports of the intelligence officer who passed away in February and of the Turkish army activity in Libya.
Murat Agirel, a columnist for Yenicag, and Erk Acarer, a columnist for the left-wing BirGun newspaper, are accused of revealing the identity of the intelligence officer on social media. Acarer is abroad and will be tried in absentia.
Eren Ekinci, an employee of the municipality where the funeral of the intelligence officer took place, is accused of providing information to the Odatv reporter.
Prosecutors have accused defendants, who have been remanded in custody since March, to act “in a systematic and coordinated manner”. Critics of the case say the intelligence officer had previously been identified in discussions in the Turkish parliament and that his name and involvement with Libya were known.
At the opening hearing, the suspects dismissed the charges against them and requested acquittal.
“I have been held in a prison cell for 120 days for allegations of nonexistent crimes,” the newspaper Cumhuriyet Agirel quoted as a court. “The allegations against me are not based on solid evidence, nor do they fit anyone’s conscience,”
The newspaper also quoted Kilinc as saying, “As a local journalist, the existence of a martyr in the region and the burial of the martyr without ceremony was an important topic to report.”
The court released Terkoglu, Keser and Celik pending the outcome of the trial and adjourned the case to September 9.
Dozens of people gathered outside the courthouse in Istanbul to show solidarity with the journalists.
The New York-based Committee for the Protection of Journalists, or CPJ, has called on Turkey to drop the charges.
“Turkey should stop trying to control independent journalism with harassment, immediately release the arrested journalists and drop the case,” said program coordinator for Europe and Central Asia, Gulnoza Said, in a statement on May 13.
The CPJ ranks Turkey among the top jailers of journalists worldwide, alongside China and Saudi Arabia.
According to the Turkish Journalists Syndicate, approximately 80 journalists and other media workers are currently in prison under Turkey’s broad anti-terrorism laws, including many who were detained after a 2016 coup.
Turkey argues that the journalists are being prosecuted for criminal acts and not for their journalistic work.
Suzan Fraser reported from Ankara.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.